Wednesday, June 6
Do you remember a television show called Heat Vision and Jack ? Created by Ben Stiller, it featured High Fidelity ‘s Jack Black as Jack Austin, a renegade, super-intelligent astronaut accompanied by his equally cerebral talking motorcycle, Heat Vision, voiced by Bottle Rocket ‘s Owen Wilson. Jack and his chatty bike crisscross the empty plains, solving paranormal capers while trying to steer clear of a band of evil NASA operatives headed by the character actor Ron Silver, who plays … himself. (He works for the government and acts on the side, Mr. Silver explains.)
Do you remember this show? You do? Liar. Heat Vision and Jack , developed by Mr. Stiller for the Fox Network in 1999, never made it onto the air; after seeing the show’s pilot episode, the network of World’s Wildest Police Videos and Normal, Ohio deemed it unfit for public consumption. This, despite the fact that it would easily be the most original show on television today. This, despite the fact that talking motorcycles are, as a rule, pretty freakin’ funny.
But now, Mr. Stiller’s unaired flash of genius is finally getting a public viewing. Heat Vision and Jack is part of an upcoming retrospective at the Museum of Television & Radio on West 52nd Street entitled Hello, Good-bye: Pilots, Premieres, and Final Programs . Starting June 15, Heat Vision will join other unseen gems, like Star Trek ‘s “The Cage” pilot (considered too … erotic by sweaty, wool-suited NBC network executives); famous premieres, like The Mary Tyler Moore Show (featuring Lou Grant grilling a chirpy, hat-tossing young applicant); and the finales of M*A*S*H, Newhart and others.
The programs selected highlight the peculiarities and frailties of network television: how certain shows never work, how others do and how some people actually enjoyed The Wonder Years , a show that produced a feeling similar to licking a tabletop at IHOP. For every darling bud like Head of the Family (the Carl Reiner-helmed pilot that eventually became The Dick Van Dyke Show ), there are hundreds more inspiration fits like Heat Vision and Jack .
Assembled by M.T.R. television curator David Bushman, Hello, Good-bye is also an unexpectedly evocative tour of television history. For those of you born after Felicity debuted, the TV finale was truly born with the two-part closer to The Fugitive in 1967, when David Janssen’s Dr. Richard Kimble at long last met his one-armed nemesis. Prior to The Fugitive , networks balked at such endings, Mr. Bushman said. The theory, he said, was that “if you bring closure, it’s a little bit harder to get people to watch things in reruns–they feel like it’s already ended and what they’re watching is kind of dated.” You know, kind of like how The Weakest Link feels now.
The success of the Fugitive finale–some 25.7 million households tuned in to part two, a record at the time–changed that thinking. And as the 1970’s arrived, and producers like Norman Lear developed a new era of warts-and-all shows with evolving, unvarnished characters like All in the Family , big finales became a staple. There was, of course, that major weeper for M*A*S*H (after the debut of The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn , still the most-watched television program of all time), as well as more whimsical endings like the finale for the NBC hospital serial St. Elsewhere . In that somewhat maddening episode–it closed with a miniature version of the hospital inside a snow globe–it appeared as if the entire show had been concocted in the mind of an autistic child (as opposed to a bunch of hyperindulgent, sandal-wearing TV writers).
Mr. Bushman gave the St. Elsewhere finale its props. “I think the point clearly was, ‘Look, we made this up.'”
More missteps can be found in Hello, Good-bye ‘s impressive collection of big-ticket premieres and pilots. There’s All in the Family ‘s second pilot, with Chip Oliver and Candy Azzara playing the roles made famous by Rob Reiner and That Woman from the Famine Ads. (Mr. Oliver was a particularly raw Meathead–though in his defense, he didn’t wind up directing North .) There’s a junked That Girl pilot in which Marlo Thomas’ boyfriend isn’t named Don Hollinger, but Don Blue Sky. “It’s totally bizarre,” Mr. Bushman said. “It’s not like there was anything about him that was Native American.”
Perhaps the most enjoyable failure in the M.T.R. retrospective is Jackie Gleason’s wonderfully disastrous two-episode run as the host of the game show You’re in the Picture . After a wobbly debut, Mr. Gleason decided it would be a good idea to spend the entire second episode apologizing for the first show. “It’s him and a cigarette and an ashtray and a drink, sitting there talking,” said Mr. Bushman. “He acknowledges it was a pathetic show, a terrible show, and he just apologizes for it.” (There’s your Pearl Harbor II , Michael Bay.)
There are other highlights: Felix Unger’s remarriage on the final Odd Couple ; Claire Danes’ precocious debut on My So-Called Life ; the sayonaras of post-boomer yummies like Family Ties and Freaks and Geeks . Mr. Bushman was hoping to get David Lynch’s pilot for his unaired ABC drama Mulholland Drive ; alas, Mr. Lynch has patched it into a film, which he recently detonated at Cannes.
But there is, of course, that dreary Seinfeld finale, the reaction to which Mr. Bushman termed “very mixed.” Ah, we’ll say. Tonight, catch Seinfeld on Fox 5. [WNYW, 5, 11 p.m.]
Thursday, June 7
Speaking of the aforementioned Mr. Gleason, while he may not have been much of a game-show host, he’s still an icon in these parts. Judging from the recent ratings, the Great One is still the great one in this town, as newly relaunched repeats of The Honeymooners on the WB 11 are putting the hurt on Conan O’Brien, Craig Kilborn, et al.
Since returning to the city’s air on May 28 at 12:30 a.m. (O.K., technically it was May 29, smarty-pants), The Honeymooners has consistently topped all fare at that hour, with the exception of the Oprah repeat that airs on WABC 7. This past Monday, June 4, it whipped Oprah and everyone else, from Conan to Craiggers to Star Trek: Voyager. [WPIX, 11, 12:30 a.m.]
Friday, June 8
CNN continues to stick its evening lineup in a washing machine, press “spin” and hope good things will come out. The latest tweak is the addition of a Jeff Greenfield chat show called Greenfield at Large .
Mr. Greenfield, the former Nightline correspondent who fled ABC for the CNN coop a few years back, wants his new program to be something of a cable-land salon, with smart (if incongruous) guests discussing relevant issues. His premiere featured the likes of Anna Deveare Smith, Hal Prince and Keith Olbermann. “The idea is that you put people from different walks of life together and have a conversation as though they’ve shown up to an interesting dinner party,” Mr. Greenfield said.
It sounds like an up-market Politically Incorrect , without the banal pop-culture nitwits–or Bill Maher. Mr. Greenfield’s filming the show at a new space CNN is using across the street from the CBS studios on West 57th–a nice departure from the old studio at 5 Penn Plaza, which had an on-air aesthetic Mr. Greenfield likened to ” The Unitarian Hour on public access.”
As for CNN’s battered image, Mr. Greenfield believes the worst is over. “One of the things that I’m happy about is that the guys running the Turner operation now understand we’ve got real competition,” he said. “It’s not 1993.”
It sure isn’t! Mr. Greenfield even went over to Lex Luthor’s den on Sixth Avenue, a.k.a. Fox, and appeared on The O’Reilly Factor recently. How’d it go? “It was an … interesting experience,” Mr. Greenfield said. [CNN, 10, 10:30 p.m.]
Saturday, June 9
Tonight on NBC, A Night at the Roxbury . Bad, but better than a night at Angel Eyes . [WNBC, 4, 8 p.m.]
Sunday, June 10
Finally! Tonight’s True Hollywood Story examines Sixteen Candles , the second-best movie of all time–after Bring It On , of course. [E!, 24, 9 p.m.]
Monday, June 11
NBC premieres some schlockfest tonight called Fear Factor , in which contestants face their worst fears, like being pushed into a room full of pant-suited junior publicists. [WNBC, 4, 8 p.m.]
Tuesday, June 12
The Factor ‘s Bill O’Reilly’s mug is everywhere. But the Jumbotron of Yankee Stadium, doing the Yankee trivia at the June 4 Red Sox game? Is nothing sacred? [FNC, 46, 8 p.m.]