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TV Becomes Land of the Endless Summer

Those notions of all-new, all-the-time TV turned out to be little more than wishful thinking.

July 06, 1999|JAMES ENDRST | HARTFORD COURANT

It's summer again, and you know what that means.

Television, already in a pathetic state, is about to get worse.

You know the drill: reruns, reruns and more reruns occasionally interrupted by sports, special-event programming, the odd cable series or made-for-TV movie, and, as always, prime-time newsmagazines.

Time to lower the bar and toss your expectations out the window, right?

What else is new?

For years, network executives talked about a year-round approach to programming--somehow filling the gaping programming hole that constituted summer, a competitive breech that cable has been only too happy to fill.

But those dreams of all-new, all-the-time TV obviously turned out to be little more than wishful thinking.

If that.

Prohibitively expensive, the idea never really caught on. It's doubtful that anyone was ever serious about it in the first place.

Now, in fact, it can be argued that the opposite has occurred--that the rest of the year is starting to feel like summer. Somehow, the endless channel-surfing that's only supposed to happen in June, July and August has become the television standard.

Sure, the new fall season isn't far off and, once again, there will be a glut of premieres in September. Unfortunately, that will be followed by the almost instant demise of at least one or two shows, then one or two more, until, somewhere about mid-October or early November, the season will start sagging all over again.

A bleak perspective, perhaps, but one that many viewers share. The reality is that we are all walking the TV beach year after year, looking for some show, any show, to ride for a few solid weeks, a singular series like HBO's "The Sopranos."

And yet even when we do find them, our enjoyment is limited, cut short.

"The Sopranos," which ended its 13-episode run in April, won't be back until January--a desert-like stretch when the rest of the TV landscape is taken into account.

Again, it's getting to be summer all year.

Some things never change in that respect.

Coulda-been, shoulda-been series such as "Movie Stars," a sitcom from the WB that was introduced to TV critics in January and was supposed to have made its debut in March or April, often end up bowing during the summer.

The public relations line about such long-delayed arrivals is that postseason openers afford extra protection--that is, less competition.

Or is it less contrast? Nothing like the dull backdrop of reruns to make your new show shine.

More than a few reviewers gave thumbs up to "Movie Stars," which stars Harry Hamlin ("L.A. Law") and Jennifer Grant ("Beverly Hills, 90210") as a picture-perfect Hollywood couple. He's the action hero; she's the Oscar winner; together they're living the life and dishing all the dirt show biz and families in the '90s have to offer.

Still, you have to give the WB credit for creativity on this one.

"Movie Stars" is getting a full-time double-pump--with not one but two time slots. The show will be broadcast Sundays and Mondays at 9 p.m. starting July 11 and 12.

"By running 'Movie Stars' on two nights," says Susanne Daniels, president of entertainment for the WB, "it gives the series two different chances to succeed."

OK. We'll buy that for a second. But if you think that kind of arrangement will survive into the fall, forget about it.

*

And what happens if the show hits, if summer viewers warm to the comedy?

"We'll pick it up for midseason," Daniels says.

In other words, more waiting. More wanting. Less viewing.

The WB has also, quite accidentally, stretched one of its most popular series, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," into summer by scheduling the show's season finale, "Graduation Day, Part Two," outside the traditional May sweeps wrap-party crush.

The reason behind the decision had more to do with the generally violent tenor of the show and sensitivities about content in light of the slayings at Colorado's Columbine High School. So instead of May 25, the "Buffy" finale, which sets up the spinoff series "Angel" starring David Boreanaz, is set for July 13.

Had this been a creative rather than political decision, the WB might have had something--a way to link summer to fall and then, who knows, fall to winter, winter to spring. . . .

Television has become a series of false starts and stops, a disorganized mess of openings and closings, launches and cancellations, time-slot sleight of hand and one big mass of confusion and delayed gratification.

What television needs now more than ever, especially on the network-television level, is a sense of continuity and consistency.

Or should we say, it's been summer for so long we're starting to feel burned.

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