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Meet TV's serial killers

Stop these remorseless series slayers before they kill again
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

To the disinterested observer, TV looks like a medium where everyone involved gets chance after chance to keep failing upward. Someone who manages to get a show on the air — even if it flops — can use that failure as the foundation for his or her next venture.

Judd "Freaks and Geeks" Apatow has never had a show last for even one full season, and now rumor has it that he’s developing a series for HBO. 

Steven Bochco (“NYPD Blue” and David E. Kelley (“The Practice”) have foisted some of the worst tripe imaginable on the TV audience (“Cop Rock,” “Snoops”), but that hasn’t stopped networks from greenlighting other such doomed efforts as “girls club” and “The Brotherhood Of Poland, N.H.” from Kelley, and “Marriage” from Bochco (canned by HBO even before any film unspooled).

And if producers get seemingly unlimited chances to ply their trade on TV, in spite of past stinkers, then why shouldn’t actors? Almost every new TV series this season features an actor who’s already had a hand in killing several other series in the past.

It’s not necessarily a bad idea to cast an actor who’s had some unfortunate luck in the past. Jennifer Garner — who broke out with ABC’s cult spy drama “Alias” — was already a two-time loser when she landed the role of Sydney Bristow; she’d helped kill “Significant Others” and “Time Of Your Life” in the late ’90s.

Lauren Graham, currently starring as adorable single mom Lorelai on “Gilmore Girls,” was accessory to the murders of “Townies,” “Conrad Bloom,” and “M.Y.O.B.” before finding her way to The WB, with much more favorable results.

Indeed, the entire cast of “Yes, Dear” — now in its apparently critic-proof fourth season — features not just one but four leads who’d had nothing but failed sitcoms: Anthony “Boston Common” Clark; Jean Louisa “Cold Feet” Kelly; Liza “Jesse” Snyder; and Mike “The Mike O’Malley Show” O’Malley — bearing the distinction of killing the show in only one episode back in 1999.

Looking aheadWill 2003 be the year that the freshman shows’ crop of show slayers end their murderous sprees? Only time will tell. Well, except in the cases of the show killers who’ve managed to kill their shows already.

For instance: Randy Quaid and Frances Fisher*. (Fisher needs an asterisk since her new show — NBC’s “The Lyon’s Den” — has, as of press time, just been pulled for sweeps, and not cancelled. But come on; the writing’s on the wall — especially given the participation of Fisher, who’s already killed “Strange Luck,” “Titus,” and “Glory Days.”) Quaid — who, last year, asphyxiated “The Grubbs” before it aired even a single episode — throttled CBS’s “The Brotherhood Of Poland, N.H.” in a mere five episodes.

Other show killers who’ve managed to do in their shows early are Rena Sofer and Ron Silver, who have already murdered NBC’s “Coupling” and Fox’s “Skin,” respectively — in both cases, in fewer than five episodes. Silver and Sofer are special cases: generally, their specialty is to join the cast of an existing, long-running series, ostensibly to help revive it, only to have exactly the opposite effect.

Sofer was a cast member both in the very last season of “Melrose Place,” and in the very last season of “Just Shoot Me,” much as Silver came late to the party on both “Veronica’s Closet” and “Chicago Hope.” Okay, fine, “Closet” limped on for another year after Silver’s departure, and “Hope” stayed on a respirator for three post-Silver years, but that just means his particular brand of TV poison is slow-acting.

Though Silver and Sofer each had the opportunity to kill brand-new shows this year, other serial killers may yet pull a Sofer on a couple of older series.

Tiffani Thiessen — who’s already got notches for “Two Guys, A Girl, And A Pizza Place” and “Fastlane” on her shotgun barrel — this season joined the cast of ailing NBC sitcom “Good Morning, Miami” (which already stars recidivist TV series slayer Mark Feuerstein).

And Steven Eckholdt — who’s killed around half a dozen TV series (including “The Monroes,” “It’s Like, You Know,” and “My Big Fat Greek Life”) — this year showed up on “The West Wing” as President Bartlet’s son-in-law. 

If Thiessen or Eckholdt do kill their new shows, at least in these instances it would be euthanasia.

Next victims
So far, only a handful of new TV series have been cancelled this season. But with Nielsen ratings down across the board, viewer migration from the networks to cable, and TV executives more anxious than ever to pull the plug on underperforming shows, there are sure to be more casualties to come:
       

  • “I’m With Her” (ABC) stars two show killers: Teri Polo and David Sutcliffe. It’s a TV series about a regular schmoe dating a hugely famous movie star. Relatable! Between them, Sutcliffe and Polo have killed such series as “Cold Feet,” “Northern Exposure,” “Sugar Hill,” and “Grapevine.”
  • “It’s All Relative” (ABC) is the story of a woman raised by two urbane gay men, who marries the bartender son of a pair of conservative blue-collar types. Could this culture clash yield a millennial “All In The Family”? No. The show stars Harriet Sansom Harris (late of “Union Square,” “Stark Raving Mad,” and “The Five Mrs. Buchanans”) and Lenny Clarke (former star of “Lenny,” “The John Larroquette Show,” and “The Job”).
  • “Married To The Kellys” (ABC) is the story of a big-city guy (Breckin Meyer) who marries a small-town girl and moves to said small town, where he is a fish out of water among her boisterous, small-town family. Will he act all superior? Will her family members act like hicks? Well, it wouldn’t be much of a show if they didn’t! Meyer is a veteran of such TV crime scenes as “The Jackie Thomas Show,” “The Home Court,” and “Inside Schwartz,” among several others. Maybe his luck has changed; probably not.
  • “10-8” (ABC; notice a pattern here?) is a cop show you’ve never heard of. It stars Danny Nucci, whom you may remember (unlikely) from such long-dead TV fare as “Falcon Crest,” “Snoops,” and “Some of My Best Friends.” There is no way on this earth this show is going to make it to a full-season order.
  • “Las Vegas” (NBC) is supposedly a sexy soap focusing on the world of Sin City surveillance. Maybe it is. I wouldn’t know, because it airs opposite “Everwood.” It stars Nikki Cox as a character that was (according to the “Entertainment Weekly” Fall TV Preview) originally a hooker, and is now an “escort.” Well, that’s totally different! Cox will kill this one as dead as she killed “Someone Like Me,” “Pearl,” and “The Norm Show.”
  • “Arrested Development” (Fox) is one show that had everything against it: remorseless show killer Jason Bateman (“It’s Your Move,” “Simon,” “Chicago Sons,” “George & Leo,” and “Some Of My Best Friends”); incredibly smart scripts; a berth on Fox’s notoriously tough Sunday-night comedy lineup; the love of every critic who’s watched a single minute of television ever. Fortunately, Bateman won’t be slaking his thirst for blood on “Arrested Development”; in a shocking yet very welcome move, Fox has ordered more episodes and it looks like the show will last the season. However, all those other shows can and should end up, unnoticed and unmourned, in the TV cemetery.