May 06, 2011 10:11am PT by Tim Goodman
Five Not Very Good Ideas in Television
There are always bad ideas in television. There are always lessons that go unlearned. That's why the bulk of my job is focused on "failure analysis." Recently, a handful of bad ideas that I thought might be reconsidered have not been. In fact, they are heating up. So let's dip our toes in the milk of human dumbness.
1. Trying to reboot Two and a Half Men Without Charlie Sheen.
Say what you want about Sheen, but he’s right on this one. He was the show. The audience completely bought into his character, which made even the lamest of the better jokes work.
Is television a writer’s medium? You bet it is. But in Two and a Half Men, Sheen proved that when the writers get lazy, stumble or just aren’t that funny, an actor can make all the difference.
What Chuck Lorre — who has every right to be offended by Sheen’s incendiary riffs on his character and talent — needs to understand is that there’s not a whole lot of funny anywhere else in the show. And beyond the notion of an ill-advised reboot, which would be hard enough to do if an actor left for the movies or simply wasn’t re-upped, the Implosion of Charlie Sheen is pretty much world news. He did not go quietly. And no matter how weirdly insane the whole thing seems, Sheen has proved that he’s pretty damned funny when he’s uncaged — in fact, far funnier than he’s ever been on the show. You can’t fill a void that big. It wouldn’t be fair to anyone you put in the role and would, sad to say, point out how weak the surrounding characters really are.
2. Giving Katie Couric a daytime talk show.
Let’s see — ABC might give a $20 million deal to someone who failed to ignite an audience in the most high-profile chair in all of the news world? Really? Say what you will about her “perky” days as a morning-show host, but that was a long time ago. A morning-show host needs to have no baggage, to be liked by all. In our partisan world, being the poster anchor for the CBS Evening News is going to get you branded, so part of that audience is out. Add to that the Sarah Palin memories. So you're already trying to rebuild a brand — Couric — who has already been judged by a chunk of the available audience.
And Couric hardly seems as chipper and chatty as she was back in the day. What people seem to want in a daytime host is Ellen or Oprah. Couric seems to have lost her charm as she’s had to outfit herself with armor against her detractors. The smile seems a little more pinched. And if you ever believed the sincerity, it seems a bit less second nature these days.
But maybe if ABC lands her, they’ll have her do something more? What, exactly, escapes the mind. If you let her do a news special or any kind of reporting, you back-slide on the character reinvention that’s needed to make her likable to everybody. So, what, she’s just going to have a talk show? That's it? For $20 million? Listen, ABC, there’s a reason that CBS passed. And though it might be impolitic to reach out to a competitor, somebody should call Leslie Moonves’ cell phone for a 20-minute chat. It might save you a million dollars a minute.
3. Going forward with The Office, sans Steve Carell.
What happens if you combine going without Sheen in a reboot of his comedy and giving an expensive redo to Couric? You still come up way short of the egregious mistake that is The Office going on without Carell. Come on. Stop milking this thing. The sitcom has had a creatively rocky past two seasons and has mined pretty much all it can from the original premise of awkward moments in the workplace. Any more is just strip-mining, and that’s just bad for the environment (and your credibility). Knowing when to let go is hard. Mean people might imply that you should have let go two seasons ago. (Hi. Good to see you again.) Nicer people will say this season was completely unnecessary. There’s a very good chance that everyone will shake their heads in disapproval for next season’s comeback.
Could a revamp shake things up, creatively? Maybe, if it was done right. A celebrity replacement isn’t the answer. Retooling the concept entirely might be more effective. But there’s no reason to be the final season of Scrubs. Nobody needs to be that. Come on. The money’s been mined. Syndication is in place. Opt for dignity. Think about the legacy.
4. Rebooting Law & Order: Los Angeles.
Do you sense a trend here? Have you heard the old story about the guy responsible for undoing the tether that keeps the blimp grounded? Once it goes up — and it can go up in a hurry — if he holds on (and that’s instinctual), he needs to make a quick decision about letting go. Do it fast, and you survive, with some bruises. Think about it longer, and, well, it ends badly. If hanging on and ending badly, even embarrassingly, is the theme of the first three, then this is the opposite. What the hell is there to hang on to? Law & Order: Los Angeles was bad from the pilot forward. Junking it and changing roles and feeding it back to viewers is an idea that only Dick “Print Me More Money” Wolf could love.
Yes, Wolf practically invented the idea that you can dump your lead actors and kick-start a flagging series with new blood, but he’s not Dr. Frankenstein. LOLA, as it known, was DOA. You can’t sew new heads on the characters and make it work. It’s a bad idea. But obviously, given the instances above, not an idea anyone in the industry has learned a lesson from.
5. Launching gender-specific channels.
Hello women of Poland. Prepare yourself for something uniquely, well, you. It’s called Blink! (from Viacom), and it will target you precisely because you’re female. After you decide to watch something only because it has women in it — like Hot in Cleveland — or because it caters to your “lifestyle,” then women from all around Europe will also get Blink! as well. If you sign up now, you might get a T-shirt you can wear to yoga. The target audience for Blink! is women 16-49 (doesn’t that rule out the cast of Hot in Cleveland?), because everybody knows that women in that demographic like the same things. Why Blink!, ladies? Because OWN and Oxygen and Lifetime and the CW and, well, pretty much the vast majority of channels and shows on television is clearly not enough for you. Who doesn’t want more options?
While it might be true that women will watch certain programming and men another kind (hence All Things Oprah, Spike, ESPN, etc.), it certainly seems that the bases are already covered several times over for females.
And beyond that, isn’t it insulting?