Facing an evening of badly edited 3rd-run movies and marathons of TV shows from earlier in the week? You must be watching Saturday night network programming! Or, most likely, you’re not, which is the whole problem.
Saturday night was once a highly coveted time slot with “Gunsmoke,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Fantasy Island,” “Golden Girls,” “All in the Family,” “M*A*S*H,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Carol Burnett Show,” “Love Boat,” and many other popular shows your grandparents watched because premium channels hadn’t been invented yet and they didn’t know any better. But in the last five years Saturday night network viewership has dropped 39 percent, largely because of the wide range of entertainment options available and because most of the really interesting crooks on “America’s Most Wanted” have been caught by now.
Some channels are using this barren weekly wasteland to re-broadcast marathons of popular shows you might have missed the first, second, or third time around (“Just like TiVo, with twice the commercials!”). Some show “Armageddon” over and over. Some just display images of network executives weeping. But some channels, like ABC, are stepping up to the challenge.
ABC is offering a Saturday night home to any program that can be made for $500,000 an episode or roughly the weekly lingerie budget for Nicollette Sheridan. According to Jeff Bader, ABC’s head of scheduling, ABC will look at anything — reality, scripted, news, sports, whatever — that will fill an hour and be cheap to produce. And that’s me all over.
Here then are my suggestions for hot new shows for ABC’s “Please, Oh Please Watch” Saturday night.
“The Desk” — There are many brave and tireless warriors in the never-ending war against crime, from the heroic officers and detectives to the SWAT teams, the crime scene investigators, the undercover police, the highway motorcycle cops, the medical examiners, and that chick who digs up bones. But what of the men and women who hold that thin blue line armed only with a cheap ballpoint pen? Follow lieutenants McReady (the young idealist) and Tribbs (the jaded veteran with a secret) as they schedule, file, and requisition supplies for justice in the ultimate police procedural.
“The Family Show” — A married couple live in a suburban area with their adorable kids and wacky neighbors who get into all sorts of side-splitting situations due to miscommunication loaded with sexual innuendo. I don’t know why no one has thought of this before. Starring either a b-list comedian or John Goodman.
“Border Patrol” — Stick a camera up at Customs and enjoy the fun. Once all the boring stuff has been edited out you’ll have hours of exciting drama and slapstick hilarity watching sweating people try to casually smuggle drugs, rare animals, and family members through the gates while the occasional fleeing American fugitive or dejected ex-patriot makes a run from the other side. Viewers can even vote on which applicant should be seized and cavity-searched, although be aware the live snake stuffed with bags of heroin isn’t always where you’d expect.
“Block Party” — a stop-motion, action-adventure show made entirely with Legos. Actually, that would be pretty cool.
“RIAA Cops” — Heavily armed police put their lives on the line every day, rappelling down walls and busting down doors to nab 12-year-old girls with suspiciously large U2 collections and grandmothers busily stuffing their iPods with Wayne Newton MP3s. Viewer discretion advised.
“America’s Next Skank” — The entertainment world would be a boring, lifeless place indeed without photogenic young girls with the common sense of a drunken cat in heat. But such creatures tend to burn out quickly as viewers get jaded and slightly disgusted, which is why this new reality show is both exciting and useful. Promising young tramps would compete to out-drink sailors, fight fiercely for paparazzi attention, create private sex tapes to leave lying about, and, in a special lightning round competition, shame their family name forever.
“SimsTV” — Based on the popular video game, each week a different family will allow you, the TV audience, to determine their every possible move. You have the power! Make them quit their jobs, seduce their neighbors, or listen to the jukebox and go “Wooo!” all day long before you get bored and starve them to death. Requires Windows XP.
“Survivor: Haiti” — We mounted a camera onto a lashed-together raft of leaky inner tubes and gave it to this hardy group of plucky Haitian refugees. Will they make it to blessed freedom? Will they get turned back by the Coast Guard? Will they eat the camera? Who knows? Tune in and see!
Send in your own ideas? They can’t be worse than “Who Wants to Marry My Dad?” and someone got paid for that thing. Just remember: cheap, quick, and an hour long.
Don’t spend too much time on it, though. You don’t want to miss “Deadwood.”