Networks take risks to keep you on the couch
By Jonathan Storm
Knight Ridder News Service
|'Playmakers' ESPN; premieres Aug. 26|
|'Boarding House: North Shore' The WB; 7 p.m. Wednesdays|
|'Tying the Knot' ABC Family; premieres 9 p.m. July 27|
Cable has been exploring the possibilities of summer for a few years. Now some big broadcast networks are joining the party.
During the regular season, TV programmers struggle for the middle, trying to get mass audiences to eat up the airwaves watching Baby Bear series that are neither too hot, nor too smart, but just right for everyone.
In summer, trying only for a little attention, they make shows you can fall in love with, and others that may leave you shocked and appalled.
Originality oozes from series that would scare the stuffing out of the suits if serious fall ratings were at stake. Look at some of them: One drama features dysfunctional plastic surgeons cutting and pasting. Another highlights a girl killed by a toilet seat from space. A cartoon follows a stripper superhero whose breasts are natural lie detectors. A celebrity with a tenuous grip on reality stars in his own gonzo reality show.
Other reality shows squirm from the set like worms from a plate on "Fear Factor." But some seem so juicy the shows, not the worms that even Martha Stewart might be tempted to tune in. Surfer girls and boys compete to see who can get the biggest waves of pleasure. Sexpots frolic at a risque resort while contestants back home compete to send them packing.
The reality glut helps demonstrate the difference between summer and fall. Fearful they won't find advertiser support, the networks haven't scheduled one new reality show in September. During silly season, the total is incalculable.
Also this summer, some solid shows are returning. We'll get to those, but first, here's a selective list of debut summer offerings, with something for everyone:
"I'm With Busey" Comedy Central. Premiered June 17 (airtimes vary, check daily listings). This life-with-celebrity offering gets crazier and crazier as comedy writer Adam de la Pena discovers that his idol, certified Hollywood wacko Gary Busey ("The Buddy Holly Story"), has a brain of clay. "This show is like a farm birth in outer space," Busey muses.
"Boarding House: North Shore" the WB. Premiered June 18 (airs 7 p.m. Wednesdays). There are thrills, chills, spills, and not a whole lot of clothes as "Survivor" producer Mark Burnett focuses his reality storytelling skills on world-class surfers who live together on land and try to beat each other's brains out during competition in the Pacific.
"Paradise Hotel" Fox. Premiered June 18. Completing a midweek bare-skin reality parlay, 11 sexy singles cavort at what Fox calls "the most exclusive resort ever created." Close quarters five double rooms, one single encourage close bodies. At 8 p.m. Mondays, selected viewers compete in "a unique studio game." Wednesdays, each week's winner bumps one of the lolling sybarites back to reality.
"Doggy Fizzle Televizzle" MTV. Premiered June 22 (airtimes vary; check daily listings). Doggone if Snoop Dogg hasn't dropped his rapping and picked up laughing for this show. Dogg lets his guests folks like Ginuwine, Redman and LL Cool J make the music. But the Doggfather performs sketch comedy. He does shtick, plays pranks, goes pimpalicious at Hugh Hefner's crib. He scratches and barks at the moon.
"Stripperella" The New TNN. Premiered June 26 (airs at 8 p.m. Thursdays). Spike Lee has been blocking TNN's name change to Spike TV, but comic-book legend Stan Lee will help move it into its new land of testosterone with this cartoon. Already intimately familiar to most of the desired audience, Pamela Anderson voices the lead character, who, using her handy-dandy tongue scanner and glass-cutting nipples, battles various arch-villains.
"Dead Like Me" Showtime. Premiered Friday (airs at 7 p.m. Fridays). In this drama, sullen young Georgia doesn't know what she wants to be. Space debris makes her mind up for her when it conks her on the head and she meets not-so-grim reaper Mandy Patinkin and his band of handsome zombies, including Jasmine Guy and Rebecca Gayheart. After the wake-up call, she learns that her new role will be removing souls from those about to croak.
"History Detectives" PBS. Premieres at 8 p.m. July 14. Summer's not just for sunny sex, cartoon violence, and crazy celebrity antics. There's learning to be done on PBS in this show that melds "Antiques Roadshow" with "CSI," as University of Pennsylvania sociology professor Tukufu Zuberi joins a couple of other experts to pull real history from legend. Is that stone on the Mantoloking beach at the Jersey shore a rare historical artifact? Did President Ulysses S. Grant really drop by for ice cream at the Morristown, N.J., firehouse? People who reject the reality flesh fetes in favor of these detectives might enjoy similar programs, "Unsolved History" and "A Moment in Time," on the Discovery Channel.
"The Restaurant" NBC. Premieres at 8 p.m. July 20. More Mark Burnett. The reality kingpin follows the monkey business and financial intrigue as a New York chef tries to round up a staff, plug in the gas, and get a good veal scallopini on the table in a month.
"Nip/Tuck" FX. Premieres at 10 p.m. July 22. Probably the summer's most substantive, and one of its more controversial, shows, this drama follows in the sex-and-violence footsteps of FX's "The Shield" as it traces the exploits of high-profit plastic-surgeon partners in Miami. One will do anything for babes and money. The other has a conscience, which means his life and marriage are falling apart.
"Tying the Knot: The Wedding of Melissa Joan Hart" ABC Family. Premieres at 9 p.m. July 27, and airs at 10 p.m. July 28-31. Hart, who was Clarissa and Sabrina the teenage witch, has made money off TV since she was a baby. That shouldn't stop just because she's changing her name to Mrs. Mark Wilkerson.
"Wild Card" Lifetime. Premieres at 6 p.m. Aug. 2. Joely Fisher's a blackjack dealer who changes careers when her sister dies in a car crash. By night, she becomes mom to her nieces and nephew. By day, she becomes an insurance-fraud investigator with a heart of gold.
"The Real Roseanne Show" ABC. Premieres at 8 p.m. Aug. 6. You can watch Roseanne in the ultimate TV self-contemplation: a behind-the-scenes show that follows her as she prepares to launch "The Domestic Goddess Hour" She cooks! She talks! this fall on ABC Family.
"Playmakers" ESPN. Premieres Aug. 26 (check daily listings). The Travel Channel gets its biggest ratings televising poker tournaments. The Bravo culture channel has scheduled a show where savvy gay guys try to help their fashion-deficient straight brothers. So why shouldn't ESPN depart from its game plan to present a scripted drama? With Omar Gooding, brother of Cuba, as part of the cast, it's about the lives of players and coaches on a fictional pro football team.