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TV Guide’s Roush Room - Monday, October 6, 2003

Monday 6 October 2003

Roush Room ASK MATT

Monday, October 6, 2003 Question : After reading about Fox’s decision to move The O.C. to Wednesday, I have to ask : Why is everyone so afraid of Thursday night ? Sure, there are a lot of highly rated shows on that night, but with six broadcast networks as well as dozens of cable ones, is there really any night or time slot now that isn’t competitive ? I think the way the networks have seemingly given up on trying to compete on Thursdays is ridiculous. If no one else ever tries to establish a presence on Thursdays, how do they expect things to change ? Up until a few years ago, the other networks had all but ceded the night to NBC. Then CBS decided to take a chance and program some real competition. The result is that both networks have top-rated nights. Fox could have made real inroads on Thursdays by leaving The O.C. there - after all, WB had some success with teen-oriented shows like Charmed, Gilmore Girls and Popular on that night a few years ago. Instead they’ve moved the show against The Bachelor, The West Wing and Angel. How is that better ? - Kyle

Matt : Excellent points. Several people wrote in with this argument, and it’s a good one. My initial reaction at hearing Fox had decided to move O.C. from Thursday to Wednesday was delight. The O.C. clearly is destined for great things, and to bury it against two megahits on Thursday, with a lead-in that leaves a lot to be desired, made no sense to me. But I was recently on an industry panel in which one of the participants also argued that it would have been fascinating if Fox had taken up the challenge and kept O.C. in the time period against CSI and Will & Grace. As Kyle wrote, no one would have believed a few years ago that CBS could be a player on Thursdays, and now it wins the night in total viewers. Maybe there is room for a third alternative. Thursdays are potentially so lucrative, with movie advertisers in particular selling their new weekend product, that it’s in every network’s interest to stay alive on the night. But on the other hand, even though the Wednesday time period is almost comically overcrowded (King of Queens and Jake 2.0 co-exist there as well, making it six for six decent shows to pick from), none of these shows is a mega-blockbuster of the proportions of CSI. I’m sure Fox thinks The O.C. has a better opportunity to break out on this night, especially come winter, when the American Idol results show will be its lead-in. It certainly has made the night more interesting. But it’s torture for anyone who doesn’t have multiple TVs and recording devices.

Question : What has happened to my Wednesday nights ? Although The West Wing had a very weak season last year, even the worst episodes were better than the first two of this season. Aaron Sorkin’s crisp and engaging dialogue has been flattened and replaced with trite, un-nuanced exchanges. The storylines were equally flat and boring. Despite the hype over the bombing of Qumar, Zoey’s abduction and Republican political intrigue, not much really happened. And next week’s previews look little better. Meanwhile, my other Wednesday fave, Angel, seems to have ditched its rich storylines for trite angst and superficial sarcasm attempting to masquerade as ironic humor. "Can we really do good by aligning ourselves with evil ?" Please - if that’s the theme of this season, I’m cutting my losses now. Cordelia has been dumped for her pale imitation, Harmony, who has none of the complexity of character or personal relationships that Cordelia had. And the most exciting development in Angel’s life and personality (his son Connor and their tormented relationship) has just been wiped away. I understand the need to trim down the immense mythology and back story to the show, but now it feels boring, stale, and cliched. These used to be two of my favorite shows. What do you think of the artistic changes, and do you think these early episodes are representative of the directions the shows will take for the season ? - Carrie S.

Matt : I’m not nearly as disappointed in Angel as you are. To the contrary. I went in knowing the show would be adopting a lighter touch this year, and the law firm setting - including the re-introduction of the daffy Harmony - provides a fresh dynamic. Clearly, change is hard, and the early reviews in my mail have been mixed, but also mostly positive, with the exception of those who will never forgive Joss for dropping Cordelia (and I agree a strong new female is needed, and neither Harmony nor Eve qualify).

As for The West Wing, I haven’t enjoyed these melodramatic episodes that bridged last season and the new one. But even with my low expectations, I was stunned by the anticlimactic nature of Zoey’s rescue. Some mumbled off-camera explanations and voila, tearful reunion. How anyone could have found this overhyped hour satisfying is beyond me. I’m hoping the show will return to form now that this nonsense is over, but I’m already peeved (before seeing it) at the thought that they’re floating that superb actor William Devane as a possible vice president - and if he was secretary of state, why haven’t we seen him before ? - when it has already been announced that the job is going to another recognizable TV actor.