The Future of TV Makes a Guy Blue

Sitting through a week of network upfronts, that annual carnival of hot air and empty promises, is like watching my future flash before my eyes. It isn't pretty. Just pretty familiar. It's a future of bland sitcoms, formula franchise dramas, and wacky reality concepts, with a few intriguing exceptions tossed in just to get our hopes up that next season can be redeemed.

To keep my head from exploding during this year's overamplified sideshow of hype, I kept a diary of first impressions and gut reactions.

Monday afternoon: NBC, Radio City

Standing next to Jeff Zucker, Donald Trump actually looks like the soul of modesty. Did I really hear the potentate of the spanking-new NBC Universal predict that the ratings for next fall's Friends-free Thursday lineup will be higher than this year's? My first big laugh of the week. ...

Nice move, screening the entire episode of Joey. Not a classic but far from a disaster. Joey's assets are like Joey himself: sweet, silly, affable, which already puts it in a league above most other NBC sitcoms. (But appointment TV? Hard to say). ...

As for Father of the Pride? Kooky CGI creatures may be hot (Shrek), but the joke sours when the main characters are white lions from Siegfried and Roy's Vegas act. Pre-mauling, of course. The real Roy appeared via video to assure the audience he's getting better, and NBC promised a Dateline
exclusive with him, timed for the show's launch. Like we had any doubts. ...

Last May, NBC was proudly touting Coupling, a dreadful remake of an overrated Friends
rip-off from England. This May, NBC is burying its better-than-expected remake of The Office, the brilliant and much honored workplace satire from England. The only thing NBC's Office
has in common with NBC's Coupling
is that it's unlikely to be a hit. But for a different reason: It's too good, too authentic. Let's hope NBC isn't too scared of the show to give it a fair shot, whenever that may be.

Tuesday morning: WB, Madison Square Garden

Popcorn, peanuts, pretzels, sodas—and Lenny Kravitz rocking the house at 10:30 in the morning. As if this network of nubile adolescents doesn't already make me feel too old for the room. …

Nobody does coming of age like The WB, and Jack & Bobby
looks like a gem, although I'm already getting tired of explaining that it's not
about the Kennedys. This heartfelt present-day drama of a future president, his brother, and their pot-smoking mom (the terrific Christine Lahti) should win the hearts and minds of young and old. Wish it were paired with Gilmore Girls
on Tuesday instead of being thrown into the treacherous maw of Sundays. …

How desperate is reality-deprived WB to be in business with reality guru Mark Burnett? Enough to buy a comedy and drama—with actual scripts!—from him. Commando Nanny
is a sitcom based on Burnett's pre-TV life, and the innocuous clips beg the question: Did he really look that buff in a tight white T-shirt?

Tuesday afternoon: ABC, New Amsterdam Theater

As I file into the Times Square Studios, home of Good Morning America (where the overflow press are sent to watch via closed-circuit), a piped-in song is declaring, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." How appropriate. One of their new shows is called Lost. Makes sense.

A nice surprise: For the first time this week, the clips make me anxious to see the actual pilots, especially of the drama series Desperate Housewives (looks like a sudsy American Beauty) and Lost (a scary Gilligan's Island). ...

Imagine if Fox aired a reality show titled Wife Swap. On second thought...

Wednesday afternoon: CBS, Carnegie Hall

Finally, something energized the ad and media community to get on its feet and cheer. Not for the shows. It was The Who, with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend leading a rousing set to thank CBS for making their songs famous again as the themes for the various CSI series. …

Okay. Rob Lowe as Dr. Vegas. Just try saying that with a straight face. ...

Memo to Jason Alexander: You're a sidekick. You're not a leading man.

Thursday morning: UPN, Madison Square Garden Theater

UPN gave us a few of the week's most promising-looking new shows. Go figure. The standout: charismatic Taye Diggs as Kevin Hill. ...

Trekkers can come down off the ledge. UPN has spared Enterprise, moving it to Fridays, a perfect night for the core audience to watch from their rooms in their parents' basements.

Thursday afternoon: Fox, City Center

I'm thrilled Arrested Development
is back. Guess last season wasn't a total loss.

Hope I can find the off-kilter comedy. Fox's bizarre new three-part schedule is confusing to me, and I work in the business. Imagine the poor viewer. It's an overlapping rollout of programs in June, November, and January. I've seen Sunday crosswords in the Times less puzzling than this.