Wednesday, March 7
Got Rudy Giuliani fever? Haggling for a table at Balthazar? Still strutting around town with Fiona Apple’s Tidal on your headphones? Well, Mr. 1997, you and your Skechers-wearing friends will be very pleased to hear that Seinfeld is coming back to its 11 p.m. weeknight slot in New York City.
For the rest of us, well, it’s grim news. Seinfeld ‘s much-hyped April 2 return to Fox 5-WNYW means hasta la vista to late-night reruns of The Simpsons , that erudite, enduring Cartoon of Cartoons that has become a passionate late-night ritual for Manhattan’s sophisticated hip-elligentsia.
“Ugh!” said Josh Hafetz, a Simpsons devotee who lives in Murray Hill. “That’s not a good thing. Many, many, many people I know watch that [11 p.m. Simpsons ] episode. In fact, I just watched it last night, and I look forward to it after work.”
Indeed, that late-night Simpsons rerun was a marvelously head-clearing diversion, a time for New Yorkers to burrow into the sofa and shut out the imbeciles of the three-dimensional city. Smart to a fault, the Simpsons was never a guilty pleasure. It was better than the crummy news, better than Friends , certainly better than that reality-TV grotesque, Blind Date . Thickly layered and dense with double-entendre, it was also a show that regularly rewarded repeat viewers, who might pick up a new joke on the third or fourth viewing.
“I just think there really aren’t enough [episodes of] The Simpsons , when you consider that it’s the best damn thing on television and nothing else comes close,” said cartoonist Ted Rall. “There’s just no reason for anything else to replace it.”
And they’re replacing it with … Seinfeld ? No, not giddyup! Good grief! Replacing The Simpsons with Seinfeld at 11 p.m. is like spinning the New York clock back four years, back to the days when feckless cynicism was considered original, movie tickets cost seven bucks and Patrick Ewing could still jump. It’s regression–regression that banks upon the same cruddy nostalgia that causes prematurely retro dimwits to buy tin Scooby-Doo lunchboxes, eat $6 Marshmallow Fluff sandwiches and dance to Dead or Alive records at loft parties. Seinfeld is dated, like the macarena and Primary Colors . By comparison, The Simpsons is timeless, earnest.
“I’m outraged at the behavior of WNYW,” cracked Simpsons executive producer Mike Scully. “Don’t they care that this will decrease my residual checks? I have houseboat payments to make!”
Hasn’t New York moved on? Seinfeld was our show, of course, and it had plenty of inspired moments, but a new wave of reruns feels like a giant step backward, like we woke up and the Mayor was ranting about squeegee guys again. How many of us need a new fix of white sneakers, close talkers and bad breaker-uppers? Weren’t four years of reruns on Channel 11-WPIX and 7,832 covers of Entertainment Weekly enough? Are you really going to laugh for the 945th time when George runs out of Jerry’s bathroom, drawers down, crying, “Vandelay Industries! Vandelay Industries!”
” Seinfeld is kind of played out by now,” said Santos Gonzalez, a video-game manager at Forbidden Planet comics downtown.
“It’s played out like a Jheri curl! ” cried Stephen Weiss, a former Internet executive who lives in Brooklyn.
Even Seinfeld moved on from Seinfeld , after all. Jerry wiggled out of his prime-time straitjacket three seasons ago, got married, moved to the Upper West Side, bought a Hamptons palace from Billy Joel, had a baby, tried out a new stand-up act and relaxed into a comfortable, vaunted obsolescence. Co-creator Larry David debuted a new show on HBO, Curb Your Enthusiasm . Jason Alexander made some funny pretzel commercials. Julia Louis-Dreyfus will be getting her own show on NBC. And we all know what happened to The Michael Richards Show .
More Seinfeld ? “Honestly, when are we doing to be rid of that show?” Mr. Rall asked.
Bringing Seinfeld back is a business move for WNYW, naturally. The sitcom was a juggernaut in its first syndication run on WPIX, at one time rating as the most-watched 11 p.m. program in all of New York, ahead of the news–though it crashed somewhat when the show went off prime time at NBC. By contrast, The Simpsons came in fifth in the city in last February’s sweeps period; that’s behind the news on WNBC, the news on WABC, Friends on WPIX and the WCBS news. In the New York metro area, The Simpsons gets about 200,000 viewers a night. It is likely that Seinfeld reruns will better that figure, at least at first.
And WNYW is running rerun episodes of The Simpsons at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. But they might as well be shooting those episodes into space, since most of New York’s young and restless don’t head home until well into the prime-time hours. For them, 11 p.m. was the destination.
“It does piss me off,” said Village Voice columnist Michael Musto. “To me, Seinfeld is a cartoon and The Simpsons is a show with real people. I find this whole thing rather problematic.”
Mr. Musto said he has moved on; he’s now addicted to Golden Girls repeats on Lifetime. Will Simpsons refugees slink into the gutter with Blind Date –which, after a promising start, has veered off into Studs-land, with siliconed ditzes and wannabe actors masquerading as actual romantics? It’s hard to imagine Simpsons fans falling for Friends . The news? Ewww. Charlie Rose?
” Simpsons viewers are natural for our show,” said Mr. Rose, who noted that he once played himself on the sitcom and still gets royalties for his appearance. “Plus, Homer and I have the same sensibilities, sense of humor, tastes and manners.”
So, good for Mr. Rose. But there’s going to be a great, gaping hole in the New York television evening, and it’s nothing that interviews with power brokers, novelists and movie stars–or pratfalls from Kramer, for that matter–will repair.
“I feel the fans’ pain. I’m the same way about The Nanny ,” said Mike Scully. “If I don’t see it at least three times a day, my life feels pointless.”
Tonight, absorb one of the final late-night episodes of The Simpsons . [WNYW, 5, 11 p.m.]
Thursday, March 8
When The X-Files premiered in 1993, a pair of cold-blooded F.B.I. agents named Mulder and Scully lent Fox a weird sci-intellectual legitimacy by chasing 10-foot flukeworms down toilets. Eight years later, the show has stumbled into Dynasty -meets- V territory with the possibility that Scully is pregnant with Mulder’s alien baby. David Duchovny, Mulder himself, is off trying to become a movie star (have we learned nothing from David Caruso?) and will appear in only half the season’s episodes. That Terminator 2 melting-metal man, Robert Patrick, is filling his government-issue loafers.
Now, with great hype but a questionable sense of timing, X-Files creator Chris Carter has launched an X-Files spin-off called The Lone Gunmen , which focuses on those three conspiracy-theory dweebs who show up occasionally on The X-Files to do metaphysically impossible searches that reveal the suspect’s DNA is actually made of Laffy-Taffy, which explains how he can start cars by looking at them.
“With The X-Files , you’re dealing with scary stuff–shadows and gloom and doom and horror. This is a chance to take that material and sort of turn it on its head with a comedic approach,” Mr. Carter recently explained from a comfy couch in the Fox News offices on Sixth Avenue.
Mr. Carter was memorably ticked when Fox canceled The X-Files ‘ little brother, the creepy Millennium . He went ballistic again when they yanked his next show, Harsh Realm , after only three episodes in the fall of 1999.
“That was an unfortunate situation where there were many different forces at work, and they were destructive forces,” said Mr. Carter, sounding himself like someone who spies black helicopters circling over his house. “There was a guy [Doug Herzog] running the network who had never done it before. Fox wasn’t doing very well, so they were looking to cut costs. So they took something that didn’t perform as they expected right out of the box and cut it, to stanch the flow of blood from other wounds.”
But a lot of blood has been spilled over The X-Files in recent years, too. In 1998, reportedly at the insistence of Mr. Duchovny, the show moved production from Vancouver to Los Angeles, sending its already hefty budgets into the stratosphere. Then, in 1999, Mr. Duchovny filed suit against Fox, alleging that the network (and Mr. Carter) had cheated him out of his fair percentage of profits when the show was sold into syndication. The settlement of that suit, combined with his fee for a limited 11-episode engagement this season, reportedly added up to $30 million.
Does Mr. Carter sometimes just want to kick his leading man’s ass? “What happened is, it got extremely personal,” he said of Mr. Duchovny’s lawsuit. “I think that’s a product of vertical integration. When you’re in business with a friend, and your business interests and your personal interests overlap in an unfortunate way, if there isn’t a certain understanding, then there’s a misunderstanding.”
Uh-huh. But doesn’t he sometimes want to kick his ass? Mr. Carter’s eyes crinkled a bit and he laughed. “I’m looking forward to working with David this year and in the [future X-Files ] movies, so I’m not going to, uh, you know–it’s just not worth picking a fight.”
– Rebecca Traister
Tonight on Fox, TV Guide’s Truth Behind the Rumors examines the avalanche of scandals (Anorexia! Playboy pinups! Alan Thicke!) engulfing Growing Pains , the poor man’s Family Ties . [WNYW, 5, 9 p.m.]
Friday, March 9
Tonight, MSNBC Investigates examines sleep disorders like insomnia. Problem solved! [MSNBC, 43, 8 p.m.]
Saturday, March 10
Tonight on ABC, an ABC News special hosted by Dr. Nancy Snyderman entitled Stress Hurts! Hey, there’s no stress these days for ABC News hunk Chris (“Hard News”) Cuomo, who seems to get all the tough assignments–like hanging out on the top of buildings with David Blaine and chumming around with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. Shouldn’t this guy buckle down and bust someone? [WABC, 7, 8 p.m.]
Sunday, March 11
Woolly-Boolly! After Sex and the City ‘s Sarah Jessica Parker, the hottest toothy longhair on TV has to be the woolly mammoth, the twin-tusked beast from prehistoric times. Last March, the Discovery Channel yanked down some staggering numbers (10 million viewers, and not all of them Ph.D. paleontology candidates) with its geekoid elepha-nanza, Raising The Mammoth, in which an actual dead Mammothsicle was dug from the Arctic tundra.
“We knew it would be successful, but jeez–it almost doubled the highest thing that we ever had,” said Discovery Channel general manager Mike Quattrone. “We were pleasantly surprised.”
Discovery is back tonight with Land of the Mammoth , another special that utilizes state-of-the-art computer graphics to try to replicate mammoth country. Network executives aren’t expecting the same kind of boffo ratings–they’re not digging anything up this time, Mr. Quattrone said–but it’s still a big deal.
“I think that people are fascinated with mammoths … [they're] like these elephants that almost seem huggable, except they are 10 feet tall,” Mr. Quattrone said. “And who knows the kind of relationship we have had with them over thousands and thousands of years.”
Hey, did he mean that prehistoric man and woolly mammoth may have been, well, you know …? Gross! Tonight, find out for yourself as Land of the Mammoth debuts. [DISC, 18, 8 p.m.]
Monday, March 12
The increasingly sadistic VH1 tries to chase away its remaining viewership tonight with back-to-back Behind the Music episodes featuring Lionel Ritchie and Celine Dion. [VH1, 19, 8 p.m.]
Tuesday, March 13
Yes, ABC still has the Geena Davis Show . But, yes, you did see an ad for What About Joan , a new ABC sitcom starring the far more delightful Joan Cusack. Something’s gotta give; that’s too many leggy movie actresses on one network. (Dumb title, though, Joan.) Tonight, Geena still clings. [WABC, 7, 9:30 p.m.]