Forget that alluring e-book. Skip that walk in the woods with the dog, that leisurely afternoon at the beach with the kids. Summer’s here and the time is right–for television!
Gone are the days when summer TV was a wasteland of reruns and other assorted garbage, when a person could safely turn off the tube from June until September, knowing he or she would not fall dreadfully behind the pop-culture curve.
Now summer means destination, water-cooler TV like CBS’ Survivor . It’s the forthcoming freak show Big Brother . It’s heavily hyped teen shows like Young Americans and American High . It means more and more of us sweating in our boxer shorts in front of the tube, cold ones in hand, the backyard crickets inaudible over the eerie Who Wants To Be a Millionaire theme .
Sound kind of pathetic? You bet! But from the cable channels to the broadcast networks, TV has never offered such a lengthy buffet of original entertainment spanning Memorial through Labor Day. It’s still a lot thinner than the fall, but guess what: Some of it doesn’t suck.
“All the networks are looking for ways to develop a hit and catch the public’s attention, and summer just looks like an opportunity for that now,” said WB network entertainment president Susanne Daniels.
Blame it on cable. Because broadcast networks traditionally flick to reruns for most of the season, cable channels have been using the summer to launch successful shows ranging from HBO’s Sex and the City to Comedy Central’s South Park. That, in turn, has provoked the broadcast networks to get off their respective duffs and try to take back a hunk of the summer audience by launching their own original series. “We can’t just roll over in the summer and leave it open for cable,” said Fox’s executive vice president of programming, David Nevins.
Of course, the broadcast networks had been playing with summer launches here and there for some time. Fox had successful summer premieres in the mid-1990’s with Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place . But it was last summer’s Millionaire splash that really convinced the networks of summer’s blockbuster potential. ABC launched the phenomenon last August, back when it was still known as Who Would Want to Watch Some Crappy British Game Show with Regis Philbin .
Now, summer 2000 has its first bona fide hit, CBS’s Real World-Gilligan’s Island adventure Survivor , which pulled down eye-popping numbers for the advertiser-coveted 18- to 34-year-old age demographic. “We’re not quite declaring victory yet,” said CBS’s senior vice president of program planning and scheduling, Kelly Kahl, who nonetheless added that Survivor “did exactly what we hoped it would do.”
The theory goes that summer is perfect for inventive fare like Survivor , Millionaire and Fox’s American High (a Real World -type show set in an actual high school), not only because a peculiar show can stand out better in a sea of reruns, but also because audiences may be looking for something different (read: less brain-challenging) after a day on the beach. Such shows are also considered less of a financial risk for a broadcast network, since alternative shows typically cost far less than an original dramatic or comedy series.
“You are going to see networks take more risks, more chances, and I applaud it, really,” said Chris Geraci, BBDO’s senior vice-president of national TV buying. “I think it’s awful when you have to present a schedule to a client with name-brand shows, but you know that every last one of them has been seen before.”
Indeed, networks are more likely to gamble in the summer, not just with content, but also with scheduling. That’s what ABC did last August by showing multiple nights of Millionaire , as was the custom of its British parent. It’s what Fox is doing this week, airing four consecutive nights of its new game show, the debt-erasing It’s Your Chance of a Lifetime . And CBS is going completely nuts when Big Brother bows July 6, running the voyeur-TV program (featuring a group of hyper-monitored houseguests) five nights a week for three months.
There’s more traditional TV fare on tap for this summer, too. Fox has a teen comedy called The Opposite Sex . CBS may resuscitate the old game show What’s My Line? The UPN rambles on with new episodes of WWF Smackdown , and the WB premieres yet another youth-skewing soap, Young Americans , in July. That show has been specifically packaged for a summer release, with summer-themed plot lines and a Coca-Cola summer ad sponsorship, said Susanne Daniels. “I love that it’s set in the summertime, really playing on summer fun and taking advantage of the summer,” Ms. Daniels said.
No longer the only original programmers on the beach, cable channels try to keep up by unloading a dump truck’s worth of original stuff. Comedy Central tries to grab the masses with new episodes of shows like The Man Show , Amy Sedaris’ Strangers With Candy and Strip Mall , a new sitcom featuring (not downtown) Julie Brown and an Americanized version of the Brit shock show Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush . TNT premieres its first-ever original series, Bull , about a group of Wall Streeters. Showtime has a bunch of originals, including Soul Food and Beggars and Choosers . Lifetime has a woman-doc drama titled Strong Medicine .
Cable executives realize that the big boys have gotten wise, and they no longer have the summer to themselves. “The competition has gotten fiercer lately,” said TNT original programming president Bob DeBitetto. Said Comedy Central’s general manager Bill Hilary: “It’s forcing cable operators to take note and [ask], Do we have to rethink the way we do things?”
Of course, the summer still serves less-than-noble purposes, too. It still gets to trot out the unwanted toys from seasons past, like ABC’s Clerks and NBC’s M.Y.O.B. , both passed over for slots earlier in the year. Summer is still the proper place to euthanize roadkill from the previous fall, like Fox is doing with Jennifer Love Hewitt’s drama Time of Your Life . “To be cynical about it, [summer] is a very good place to shove something and if it doesn’t work, it sort of goes away,” said Mr. Hilary, who presumably wasn’t talking about any of his shows. “If it does work, you can shove it out in the autumn again.”
Tonight, the second installment of Survivor . [ WCBS, 2, 8 p.m. ]
Thursday, June 8
& Synergy blows! Instead of tonight’s episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire , Disney child and ESPN sister ABC is contractually obligated to show Stanley Cup Hockey , otherwise known as Who Wants To Get Creamed By Diagnosis Murder. [ WABC, 7, 8 p.m. ]
Friday, June 9
Tonight PBS Thirteen debuts its fifth season of Reel New York , its eight-week festival devoted to independent films about New Yorkers by New Yorkers (or at least one of the two). Reel New York series producer Garrison Botts was asked if the high rents and costs of living in New York were driving indie filmmakers out of the city. Not really, he said. “I kind of hate to say this, because it might be speculating, but a lot of people who make films in the first place don’t come from an impoverished background,” Mr. Botts said. “If you go to N.Y.U. or Columbia University, which a lot of these filmmakers go to–good film schools–it’s already cost them, like, $100,000 for their education. I mean, we do have a diversity of people making films, but it’s not exactly a poor person’s milieu, for the most part.”
Tonight, all you indie filmmakers, throw on the black beret, pass the clove cigs and cozy up to Reel New York . And don’t forget to thank Dad for the rent check! [ WNET, 13, 10 p.m. ]
Saturday, June 10
Have you had enough of those supposedly “edgy,” MTV-esque newsmagazine shows, in which producers try to achieve desired “edginess” primarily by jerking a hand-held camera back and forth? So has Joel Parks, who is co-producing a new Manhattan stories newsmagazine, called 212 , for the Fox News Channel
“My problem with MTV [style] has always been that although it started out being very creative, it’s really become, ‘Let’s just move the camera, let’s just do this for the sake of doing that,'” said Mr. Parks, who is co-producing the show with Clem Taylor. “I’m not a believer in that. I believe that anything that you put in the frame should help tell the story.”
212 , which strives for a more stripped, bare-bones feel, is the brainchild of Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, Mr. Parks said. “He had this idea for a show that he was kind of calling ‘Raw News,'” Mr. Parks said. “He was fascinated by the idea. His idea was that news had become too homogenized, too set up, perfectly lit … so he had an idea to make it more real, [to] sort of break down the wall between the audience and the news event.”
So off went 212 ‘s crew, scouring the city with their little digital cameras (but not shaking them needlessly!). A recent 212 featured segments on an up-and-coming Bronx boxer, a smooth-talking court clerk in lower Manhattan and an East Village salon in which the hairdressers also give salsa-dancing lessons. It’s local color; nothing terribly newsy or nasty. Think of The New York Times ‘ Sunday City section brought to TV.
The Fox News Channel is running 212 every other Saturday night at 9:30 for now. Mr. Parks did not say if there are any plans for another Manhattan newsmagazine called 646 . [ FNC, 46, 9:30 p.m. ]
Sunday, June 11
When an art museum wants to lure the summer masses and part their pocketbooks, it orders up a nice, juicy Picasso or Renoir exhibit. But what does a museum specializing in film and television do to attract the throngs?
Why, show some episodes of The Sopranos , of course! That’s exactly what the folks over at American Museum of the Moving Image have done. Tony, Carmela, Junior, Big Pussy and the crew have come to life on the big screen at the Astoria-based museum, which is celebrating the HBO mob drama with a month’s worth of theatrical showings. Last weekend’s premiere was a big sellout smash, reported museum curator David Schwartz.
And it sure helped that HBO chairman and C.E.O. Jeffrey Bewkes is on the AMMI board! Once AMMI brass cooked up the idea, Mr. Bewkes made it happen fast, Mr. Schwartz said.
The Sopranos episodes are shown in groups of two. The series runs through June 25. “I think it will probably bring people here who have never been here before,” Mr. Schwartz said.
Tonight on HBO, Sex and the City , a show based on a column from some newspaper. [ HBO, 32, 9 p.m. ]
Monday, June 12
Hey, self-absorbed TV watcher, just because you live in New York City and can’t get Oxygen, it doesn’t mean that Oprah’s new channel doesn’t exist. O-2 has plugged along without you and Manhattan Time Warner Cable, and tonight the fledgling network stages what can kind of be described as its first big must-see event: a women-only forum with Vice President Al Gore.
Okay, so it isn’t the Apollo landing. But getting Mr. Gore for a campaign sit-down is a pretty decent coup for the Oprah channel, which launched in February. As part of its “Be Fearless With Your Vote” campaign 2000 initiative, O-2 has invited the Tennessee Tin Man to come to Trenton for a 90-minute forum, where he will be met by 150 real live women who will pepper him with questions about everything from abortion rights to … whatever. “I think it will be very far-flung,” said one of the forum’s executive producers, Scott Carter. “We look forward to being surprised.”
NYTV wondered aloud if anyone would pop a boxers vs. briefs question, like the one President Clinton juggled like a vial of Ebola virus on MTV eight years ago.
“It would be nice to have a defining moment for the campaign come out of one of these sessions,” Mr. Carter said. “I would hope that it will be more significant than the type of underwear worn by the candidate.”
Oxygen has invited Texas Governor George W. Bush to do another one of these question-and-answer jamborees this summer. And if you think that not getting Oxygen gets you out of watching Mr. Gore drone through his women’s forum, you’re wrong. The Oxygen Women’s Forum will be simulcast on CSPAN, which you can get on Manhattan Time Warner Cable. So sit down and take your campaign medicine. It’s good for you! [ CSPAN, 38, 9 p.m. ]
Tuesday, June 13
Tonight on TNT, the original Shaft . Who’s the private dick who can’t believe he made a lame remake with Samuel L. Jackson? [ TNT, 3, 8 p.m. ]