Thursday is still the home to the most desired time-slots and highest rated shows on television, but NBC's complete ownership of the night is a thing of the past. With the departure of Friends and CBS creating a lineup over the last couple years that has challenges (and often beats) NBC's competition every week, Thursday became enticing even to the upstarts. The most entertaining ratings battle won't arrive until November sweeps when The O.C. swoops into our homes at 8 PM and does its best to wrest away that most desirable of demographics from Survivor and Joey. ABC, The WB and UPN seem content to find their tiny niches and sit by the sideline, but make no mistake that the 8 PM hour and what happens will to some degree effect the entire television landscape.
Hyperbole, you ask? I'm being too dramatic, you say? Sundays may be the most watched night of television, but Thursdays are the most valuable, primarily due to the movie industry's desire to push their major releases the night before Friday's openings. If NBC can't hold relatively steady at 8 PM, that will hurt its 9 PM and 10 PM which is already in big-time fights with CBS at those hour. If Fox can open a toehold at 8 PM, who knows what could happen once they finally get a decent show in at 9 PM.
Of course, most of the following will mean nothing to you tonight because at 9 PM, all the networks plan to show the first Presidential Debate. Now, even though a debate should include the debaters actually confronting each other thereby creating, you know, debate, and that sure as hell won't be happening tonight. But for now, here's Thursday:
|8:00 PM:||Extreme Makeover||Survivor: Vanuatu||Joey||The O.C.||Blue Collar TV||WWE Smackdown!|
|8:30 PM:||Will & Grace||Drew Carey's Green Screen Show|
|9:00 PM:||Life As We Know It||CSI: Crime Scene Investigation||The Apprentice||?TBA? /
?One Tree Hill? (repeat of Tues epi)?
|10:00 PM:||Primetime Live||Without a Trace||ER||Local Programming|
So let's just get this out of the way: everything important on Thursday is happening on CBS, NBC and Fox. Sure, the other networks are still broadcasting, but they’ve decided to go after small yet stable audiences. For instance, I'm not going to criticize professional wrestling and UPN's WWE Smackdown! No, I'm not a wrestling fan so I'm not going to watch the show, but UPN has a very loyal and consistent audience that loves its two hours of heavily scripted athletic entertainment.
The WB has found a minor hit with Blue Collar TV, a working class sketch-comedy show featuring Jeff Foxworthy's "successful" brand of "redneck" humor. Follow that with Drew Carey's Green Screen Show which is basically adding special effects to Whose Line Is It Anyway? and what we call that is counter-programming. The network doesn't know what the hell to do at 9 PM, and both the TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly fall previews show the time slot as "TBA." It now looks like The WB is planning, for the time being at least, to rebroadcast its Tuesday night episodes of One Tree Hill, basically just saying, "We give up" in the face of the most-watched show on television and the biggest reality hit to premiere since its 8 PM CBS cousin.
ABC is a bit more daring. Not at 8 PM, mind you, when Extreme Makeover will be happy with whatever little audience it gets. Putting Extreme Makeover, with its "extreme" plastic surgery, on during the 8 PM "family hour" is an interesting choice, but I'm sure ABC just figures that all the kids will be watching the other networks so they can go after the lonely, depressed and disgruntled who enjoy watching other lonely, depressed and disgruntled people go to "extremes" in order to change everything about themselves other than … their actual selves.
ABC's choice at 10 makes sense: toss a news magazine into the mix for viewers who want something more serious than missing or sick people, but 9 PM is a bit confusing. On the same night which proved the death-knell to the great My So-Called Life, ABC gives us Life As We Know It which is being described as a similar show from the male perspective. I suppose their shooting for the teen audience that isn't interested in The Apprentice or CSI, and competition with Fox at this time is ripe. But Extreme Makeover is a horrible lead-in for such a show, going after a completely different audience.
Most importantly, reaction so far seems mixed. EW hated it and basically predicts it will be the first show cancelled. TV Guide says, "The first minutes are so obnoxious we almost tuned out. But Life grows on you, even though some twists are cribbed from the Dawson's Creek playbook." I suppose we can judge for ourselves a week from tonight when the show premieres. One special note: Kelly Osborne has a regular role in this series. Bonus points or strike against? You be the judge.
Now the important stuff. What the hell to watch at 8 PM? Can Joey hold on to the audience loyal to Friends? Probably not. I'm sure plenty of people checked-it-out, but the show will have to get much better than it has been so far if it wants to move beyond standard schlock sitcom fare. I wrote some early thoughts about the show after its premiere, and now three episodes in, I'm sorry to say that my optimism has so far been unrewarded. Joey isn't awful, and it may actually be the best new comedy of the season, as it has been called by both TV Guide and EW, but that would only be because the rest of the new crop of sitcoms are so much worse.
I'm a fan of Joey the character, and there have been two or three moments in each of the episodes that have made me laugh. But with the exception of a few good lines, the writing has still been weak overall. When Joey works, it's because of a clever Joey moment, not a simple one. This show will eventually live or die based on the relationship and dynamic between Joey and his nephew, and until they get that repartee flowing and put them in more interesting and less predictable situations, Joey will remain simply your slightly-better-than-average (if that) sitcom.
Luckily for Joey, Survivor is starting to feel its age. I've been a huge fan of the revolutionary reality show since its premiere, but I discovered during the last two editions that I was starting to get a bit bored. The problem may be partially due to casting, and the one constant about the show is that the early episodes -- with such a large number of contestants and an inability to get to know any of them too well – have consistently been less interesting than later ones. That's why the choice to increase this non-"All-Star" cast from 16 to 18 contestants seems kind of bizarre. All I know is that after two episodes, I find myself really not caring all that much. I'll stick with it a bit, but if some interesting conflict that doesn't appear slightly different from what's come before doesn't appear, Survivor may not be one on my DiVo for much longer.
Influencing my decision on both shows will be Fox's brilliant but risky move of The O.C. to compete leading off the night. Can The O.C. hold-up in its sophomore season? The storylines became more predictable and less-interesting as the season wore on, and at some point, having all the characters in a show endure their own crises and moments of teen angst can be a bit much. But the one thing unique to The O.C. compared to all the young-adult soaps that have come before it and since is its collection of interesting multi-dimensional characters. Yes I'm talking about The O.C. dammit. For all its clichés and recycled plotlines, The O.C. has always managed to instill complexities in all of its characters from Ryan to Summer to Luke. If they can continue to do so while thinking up some plotlines that don't rely solely on whether or not Ryan and Marissa or Summer and Seth get together before breaking up and then getting together and breaking up, then it will continue to be one of the most entertaining shows on television without even having to qualify as a guilty pleasure.
I predict that The O.C. will lay claim to a significant share of the 8 PM audience, but Fox is still acting cautiously with the night and basically giving up on 9 PM, at least for the time being. Considering the competition, this may not be a that dumb a move. Originally, Fox planned to premiere a new season of Tru Calling after the World Series, but in what absolutely can't be called a "good sign," Fox has since reduced the order of original episodes of the show and pushed the premiere back to January. What's going to air come November? Apparently, they're going to follow The WB's lead by airing repeats of one of its crappy series, North Shore.
Like North Shore, the producers tried to rescue Tru Calling last season with the addition of a Walsh-twin, in this case Brandon, a/k/a Jason Priestley. I must admit, I didn't see any of Priestley's episodes of Tru Calling at the end of last season, and although I love Eliza Dushku as much as Thigh Master and Uncle Grambo, I watched the first four episodes last year and then just couldn't take anymore. Here's a show that didn't take one step beyond its initial premise and simply created the most contrived and annoying situations (and characters) you could imagine. Maybe I'll give Tru a brief shot when it returns, but chances are I'll just take the Aleve and skip the headache all together.
Besides, the big battle for ratings dominance only has two players: CSI and The Apprentice. Both shows deserve their enormous audiences. CSI is a very well-made show and never fails to present compelling self-contained stories. But CSI is a show I never feel obligated to watch because I know if I miss a week, it's no biggie, and there'll be another story with more cool procedural technique next week. The Apprentice, however, is already at least as riveting as the first series was. No, there's no Omarosa, but she actually annoyed more than entertained, and just a few episodes in, we've already got a lovely collection of people to root for and against. I love The Apprentice so much that I've even been DiVoing the Saturday "encores" as well because the bonus boardroom footage has been so fascinating. I wish this show was 90 minutes so they could stick all the additional boardroom footage in the original broadcast. Having watched these "bonus" scenes the last two weeks, I'm amazed at how much interesting (albeit not crucial) detail has been added to the storylines.
10 PM presents a problem for me, but its one that I wrote about last week, namely, how do you break-up with a show you've watched loyally for nearly a decade. I'm pretty sure I've seen every episode of ER. The series has produced some of the greatest drama and greatest eye-rolls on television. When it's good, it's great. When it's not … well, you get the obvious point. Last year's finale simply pissed me off. This year's premiere didn't really make-up for it. The show seems to just replace characters with similar characters before recycling storylines, and then care nothing for consistency with what these characters go through. Does anyone remember Carter's drug problem? The one where he was taken to rehab by Dr. Benton. Or Abby's alcoholism? Or just about anything Kovac does from one year to another? How many helicopters can fall from the sky or trucks crash into the front doors? I realized while watching the premiere that I just don't care anymore, and eventually I'm guessing more people will feel similarly.
That doesn't necessarily mean I plan to give up ER for Without a Trace. I really like Without a trace, but like all the other procedural dramas, I don't feel like I must catch every episode, so I've never watched it religiously. I may check-in more often this year, especially if I do completely give-up ER, but even though it's a very good show, the best choice at 10 PM on Thursday may just be to catch-up on something from earlier in the week, check-out something else on cable, or just turn the damn TV off.
No … of course I didn't really just say that. You're hallucinating.
Tomorrow is Friday, and you know what that means? A whole lot of nothing (with one exception), meaning there's still no reason to stay home on a Friday night.
Don't miss: The O.C.; The Apprentice
Worth watching:Survivor: Vanuatu; CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Without a Trace; Primetime Live;
Worth watching -- at least for now: Joey ;
Tolerable: ER; Blue Collar TV; WWE Smackdown! (if you're into that kind of thing)
Snoozer: Will & Grace
Ouch my eyes! My head! Oh, the pain! Please make it stop!: Extreme Makeover; Tru Calling
The verdict is still out (have yet to air/see): Drew Carey's Green Screen(premiers in October); Life As We Know It (premieres 10/9)