WITH JANE WALLACE
Host: Jane Wallace.
11 p.m.-12 a.m.
Host: Karyn Bryant.
The original material on Fox’s new cable channel, FX, is a mix of interesting and trite ideas executed with varying degrees of competence. Overall, it looks like public access on a huge budget, which may be what the FX mavens had in mind all along. Strongest overall asset may be FX’s accessibility: With each show listing a live, fax and/or phonemail number and encouraging response from viewers, FX is the closest thing to interactive TV on a nationwide basis.
It’s unfair, of course, to judge any continuing enterprise on the strength of the first effort. That said, Variety jumped into the middle of the new FX network’s premiere broadcast day, June 1, and caught all the cabler’s original programming over a 24-hour period.
For all of the apparently intentional stupidity and various technical errors in the debut (at 9 p.m. Wednesday, a “news” card ran for a minute without a news break), the spontaneous attitude of FX is promising. What the producers and air staff evidently haven’t figured out yet is that spontaneity takes a lot of preparation, especially when you have only the barest notion of what you’re doing.
FX says it’s offering seven hours each weekday of live original programming, of which 6 1/2 hours are scheduled and stripped programs of 30 minutes or longer. (FX explains that remaining “live” half-hour consists of between-show introductory segments.)
The broadcast weekday is filled out by vintage series — “Batman,” “Family Affair,” “Fantasy Island,” “Hart to Hart” — the half-hour Australian soap “Home & Away,” and an hourlong block of “In Living Color” reruns.
FX’s live segments are set in an unusual environment that gives the phrase “studio apartment” a whole new dimension: A set that’s dressed to resemble the biggest condo in the universe, with plenty of room for men to dart around with hand-held cameras as various hosts (analogous to MTV veejays) introduce canned programming.
Live shows originate from the apartment as well — Jane Wallace’s political commentary in the woody “study,” for instance. (And “Batman” in the Bat-room?)
Following a repeat of previous day’s “The Pet Department,” weekday opens with the 2 1/2-hour “Breakfast Time,” which looks like a cross between a very light morning news show and a less intellectually challenging version of the old “Home Show.”
Co-hosts Tom Bergeron and Laurie Hibbard anchor a crew of regulars including roving reporters Jillian Hamilton, Gwen McGee and John Davis; astrologer Russell Grant (wearing a bright red blazer Thursday morning, “in honor of all the fire signs. … Who’s my star of the day? Why, Gemini, it’s you!”); scientific type Frank Cronson; and exercise instructor Patricia Moreno, who begins the show with a half-hour of light aerobics.
High points of the show were remotes: Davis from Will Rogers’ birthplace in Oolagah, Okla., and Hamilton from a Miami jail that’s trying a variation on the “Scared Straight” program.
Low point found Bergeron and Jose Gonzalez from the Acme Safe Co. attempting to crack a vault in the N.Y. building that houses FX.
Interview with “Blossom” co-star Jenna von Oy came off pretty well, mainly due to von Oy’s own poise; she’s done this before.
Another tip: If a “news” item like the continuing Tom and Roseanne Arnold segment is as boring as everybody in the cast pointed out, why, if they respect their audience, are they reading it?
Oh, yes, there’s a puppet, “Bob,” fulfilling the same purpose that Shotgun Red did on the Nashville Network’s “Nashville Now.” Whatever that was.
One of FX’s more interesting shows follows “Breakfast Time” on the West Coast (though the hour-long “Personal FX: The Collectibles Show” is seen at noon in the Eastern time zone).
Hosted by Claire Carter, with John Burke in the field, the program shows people’s collections of items and, in some cases, has guest appraisers try to value them. Like most FX hosts, Carter plays a little too dumb a little too often (“Believe it or not, there is a Milwaukee, Oregon!”), but the emphasis on civilians helps.
Burke, in Oregon, interviewed a woman who owns 2,000 Barbie dolls (Carter, piping in: “Has Barbie changed over the years?”). Back in the apartment, Carter seemed less interested in objects’ history, design or materials than their selling price.
Most intriguing segments may be where experts diagnosed people’s valued heirlooms as fakes or knockoffs: “It does look like a reproduction to me,” said one of a cast iron Aunt Jemimah bank. “People put these in the ground for 2-3 years, and then try to sell them as originals.”
The half-hour “Pet Department” features host Steve Walker and dog, Jack. Program is divided into segments including a “Road Test” of animals (a Tonkinese cat Wednesday, a macaw on Thursday) as potential house pets; and practical advice on raising your pet (field reporter Luann Lee with dog trainer Andrea Arden on Wednesday).
While this and “Personal FX” look as though they belong on Lifetime or the Nashville Network, at least they might prove informative.
Jane Wallace, most recently seen as co-host of CNBC’s “Equal Time,” is a credible political interviewer, though her interaction on that show with Mary Matalin is missed (as it is from “Equal Time”).
Wednesday’s “Under Scrutiny With Jane Wallace” found her and a panel of “experts” trying without much success to discuss the Rostenkowski situation without libeling him.
“Obviously, we’re speaking hypothetically,” Wallace said several times in one form or another, “the man hasn’t yet been convicted.” That didn’t stop her from asking a psychiatrist, “Do you think that even if he was a big guy (politically) , he might have done these things out of insecurity?”
The nadir of FX’s original programming Wednesday night was the pop music program “Sound FX.” Pity, because they may be onto something — an alternate to MTV, with musicvideos and live guests.
First sign that something was wrong was when the originally announced host, former MTV veejay Karyn Bryant, was joined by two men: Orlando Jones, who did most of the talking, and co-producer Matthew Ostrum, who mainly seemed dazed.
Asked how he discovered a video by Italian rapper Jovanotti, Ostrum replied with commendable (if not advisable) frankness: “I just looked in Billboard.”
Guest was Spin Doctors lead singer Christopher Barron, whom the hosts barraged with uninformed questions, sometimes supplying the (incorrect) answers themselves — at one point, Barron snapped back to Ostrum, “Do you guys want me to tell what happened?”
Bryant, promoting herself as a Brown graduate, seems to have a vocabulary limited to variations of “cool” and — like her cohorts — tends to judge quality in terms of sales.
Asked what she thinks of Spin Doctors’ unusual and arty “Cleopatra’s Cat,” “I thought it was cool.” How cool was Chris Barron? “Mega cool.” The Brown Alumni Assn. must be so proud.
And it would be nice to see occasional videos all the way through, even if that means less conversation from the hosts.
Closing the evening, and not a minute too late, is “Back Chat,” in which an FX host (Steve Walker on Wednesday) responds to audience inquiries. It’s sort of “Viewer Mail” without the jokes.
Fortunately for the web, questions are posted on phonemail or faxed; it would be too cruel to ask any of these people to respond spontaneously to live questions.