Fox Makes Things So Complicated; UPN Enjoys Being a Girl

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One of the saddest things about our world is there is no room left in it for the stupid people. Throughout the years, whatever technological and social changes might come, the less-than-smart used to have the solace of TV. It would give them new shows in the fall, and those shows would stay on the air at the same time on the same channel, and then there would not be another set of shows to learn until next year.

Now, it's different. Shows come on the air and are canceled two weeks later, or moved strategically to different nights of the week. Sometimes they start at 9:30 p.m. and end at 10 p.m., unless the network brass decide to make them start at 9:28 p.m. and end at 10:01 p.m. And then there's year-round programming. Today at City Center in Manhattan, Fox announced not one schedule, but three: One that starts in June, one that starts in November, and another for later in the winter. You need a TiVo to keep all this straight. A TiVo! A computer for your television! Has everyone forgotten that television is the opposite of a computer — a machine you turn on so you can stop thinking?

Fox has, apparently, and it's ironic since this is also the network that gave us "Forever Eden," "The Littlest Groom," and other shows that would give a surfeit of pleasure to the stupid, if only they could find them. In total, it announced 17 new shows, not counting one — the animated sitcom "Family Guy" — which the network canceled twice before and has un-canceled again. (New episodes return in summer 2005.) A list follows, but be warned: You can either read this list, or you can actually watch TV. There is not enough time in one life to do both.


  • "The Jury," which beats "Law & Order: Trial by Jury" to the voir dire by going inside the deliberations on a different highly charge case every week. From Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, whose cop shows ("Homicide," "The Beat") tend to be more cerebral — and less popular — than the "L&O" franchise

  • "North Shore," a prime-time twentysomething soap that aims to be "Melrose Place" to "The O.C."'s "Beverly Hills 90210"; it's set at a Hawaiian resort, and I'm taking bets as to when booted "American Idol" chanteuse Jasmine Trias makes a guest appearance

  • "Quintuplets," a sitcom in which Fox tries to make good for canceling the fantastic "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" by casting Richter as the frazzled dad of 15-year-old quints

  • "Method and Red" — because when you think hardcore rap, you think wacky suburban comedy! Hip-hop artists Method Man and Redman play themselves, trying to ingratiate themselves with their uptight white neighbors in a suburban gated community.

  • "The Casino." Mark Burnett's on the phone. He wants to do another reality show. Where's the closet where we keep the blank checks?

  • "The Simple Life 2." Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie say they're willing to try for 15 more minutes. Where's the closet where we hide our sense of shame?

  • "The Complex: Malibu." We didn't know Malibu was complex, but several couples are moving into a condo building there, renovating their apartments and trying to sell them at a profit, in a reality show that combines "Temptation Island," "Trading Spaces" and that one so-so real-estate episode of "The Apprentice."


  • "House," a drama, continuing a mini-trend of medical-sleuth shows, in which an idiosyncratic but brilliant doctor investigates peculiar disease outbreaks.

  • "The Billionaire: Branson's Quest for the Best," in which Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson attempts to prove there's room for more than one crazy billionaire on TV. And with Ross Perot not running for president this fall, who's to say he's wrong?

  • "The Next Great Champ," a boxing reality show, starring Oscar de la Hoya, that will beat NBC's "The Contender," slated for January, to the — no, it's too easy...

  • "The Partner," one more reality show, this time with two teams of lawyers (one Ivy-League educated, the other from less prestigious schools) battling it out in mock trials. Whoever is responsible for the fact that this show does not have Alan Dershowitz playing the Donald Trump role should be fired.

  • Also in the fall — after Fox airs the baseball playoffs — most of Fox's returning shows debut, including, thank God, "Arrested Development." Watch it next year or I'll crawl through the Internet into your house and make you.


  • "Athens." OK, so maybe this is supposed to be "Melrose Place" to "The O.C."'s "Beverly Hills 90210." Josh Schwartz, the creator of Fox's Orange County soap, brings us this drama, set in a fictional New England college town. The pilot hasn't been shot yet, so instead Schwartz described the setting and cast, which includes, he said using a Seth Cohen-esque coinage, a "Hinjew" — a character who's half-Hindu and half-Jewish.

  • "The Inside," a drama about a federal agent working undercover as a high-school student. It's "21 Jump Street" meets... um... well, "21 Jump Street."

  • "Jonny Zero," about an ex-drug offender (who tragically lost the "h" in his first name somewhere) trying to go straight but torn by pressure from the FBI to go undercover and from his old associates to go back into the life. (TV critics like to use phrases like "the life" to prove that we're, you know, "down.")

  • "Related by Family," from the creator of "Andy Richter Controls the Universe," a sitcom about teenage kids, including a stepbrother and stepsister, working at a mall food court. Between this and "Quintuplets," couldn't they have just saved half the money and brought "Universe" back?

  • "Kelsey Grammer Presents: The Sketch Show," because when you think Kelsey Grammer, you think — well, no you don't, but the lucky bastard sold this show anyway.

  • "American Dad," an animated sitcom from "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane, about a typical suburban dad who secretly works for the CIA. It's like "Alias," but with less moony-faced romance and spies dressed up like hookers, and more talking goldfish.

  • "24" won't debut until January, then will run every week until its finale (like "Alias" is doing at ABC)

  • Although Fox did not announce it, we must also imagine that sometime in winter it will order as a replacement some reality show that, if someone told you today that it were airing, you would think was too sick to be imaginable, but which will by then seem just slightly "edgy." (Did I mention "The Swan" is back next fall?)

    Whew. All that programming left little time at Fox's presentation for the usual pretaped skits, parodies and whatnot, although the show did open with a video monologue by a scary, Big Brother-y looking character, reading "The Rules of Television": All series must have Very Special Episodes that run during sweeps month, and so on. The message: at Fox, with its "revolutionary" new summer season, "There are no rules." Which was not only self-serving but wrong, since pretty much every show I described above is taken from one page or another of the same Bible. (Thou shalt rip off thy competition's hit reality shows; thou shalt air sitcoms about nutty families struggling to raise teenagers; thou shalt clone thy successful soaps.)

    By the end of the presentation, the advertising crowd seemed downright fidgety and restless, maybe because those fall and winter schedules are about as concrete at this point as a 20-year government deficit projection. They can, and likely will, be tinkered with, shuffled and if necessary torn up as the sure-fire hits introduced in the meantime are cancelled. Even at the revolutionary Fox, that law is harder to break than gravity.


    UPN, on the other hand, is my new favorite network, because in its upfront at Madison Square Garden it announced just four new shows. Will they be good? Will they be bad? Who cares? At least I can understand their schedule without a slide rule.

    Remember a few years ago, when "Smackdown!" was the hottest show on UPN and it rounded out its slate with rude-boy shows like "Shasta McNasty"? A strange thing has happened since then: the testosterone network has gone all girly. The estrogenous "America's Next Top Model" is the biggest hit the network has ever had. (Little-known fact about TV: women actually want to watch scantily clad hot women knocking each other down on runways more than men do.) So today the network said it would stop fighting its feelings and free the woman trapped inside its hairy-chested body.

    UPN is giving itself a demographic sex change, focusing on women under 35. (Don't worry guys: "Smackdown!" stays on Thursday, when every conscious female will be watching "Joey," "Survivor" or "The O.C." in its new time slot anyway.) Which means that next season we get not one but two editions of Tyra Banks' ingenious masterpiece of ambition and bitchiness. Bridging the months between them will be "The Missy Elliott Project," which UPN describes as a hip-hop version of "Top Model," in which a group of aspiring performers hits the road to get their freak on and compete to become her protege.

    The network's one new sitcom is "Second Time Around," a romantic comedy about a divorced couple that gets remarried. The two new dramas are even more femme-friendly. "Veronica Mars" is sort of a detective version of "The O.C." — a working-class girl living in a rich California enclave struggles to fit in, while occasionally helping her private-eye dad with investigations. (The trailer actually looked less derivative — slightly — than I make it sound.) And perhaps the X-chromosomiest of all its new offerings is "Kevin Hill," in which the sculpted Taye Diggs plays a sharky entertainment lawyer who adopts his dead cousin's baby, loses his job, and takes a new post with a small do-gooder legal term. Or, to put it in terms relevant to the intended audience: "Blah blah blah lawyer blah blah blah baby blah blah OMIGOD, TAYE DIGGS IS SO HOT!!!"

    And that's it. Four shows and we're done. Which I why I beseech you, my readers, to watch the programs of my new favorite network, UPN. Watch the new ones and the old ones. Watch them if they are good, and if they are bad, why, turn the TV on to UPN, leave the room and read an edifying book! If all goes according to plan, next year, at the end of yet another, overblown exhausting, overpromising TV upfront week, UPN will not need to announce a single new show. And at least one TV columnist and his aching typing fingers will be extremely grateful. Happy viewing.