HOW DOES A BUZZ start on TV shows?Some skeins, like “Friends” and “ER,” caught the buzz immediately. Others, like “Seinfeld” and “Law & Order,” took much longer. A few years ago, if you sang the praises of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” you usually were met with blank stares. Nowadays, that show has the buzz and everybody loves “Raymond.” Then there are the hidden treasures that haven’t caught on — yet. Series that have the buzz are embraced by critics, audiences and awards voters. The hidden treasures have the support of one or maybe two of those groups, but not all three. Ask people to name a good sitcom, and they’ll rattle off “Will & Grace” and “Frasier.” Dramas: “The Sopranos” and “The West Wing.” Reality TV: “Survivor,” hands down. All those shows have the buzz. But the buried treasures are just as good. As far as we’re concerned, the funniest show on TV is “Grosse Pointe.” Best drama? “Oz.” Reality show? “Iron Chef,” hands down. They’re just waiting to catch the buzz. WHEN “GROSSE POINTE” debuted last fall, most of the media attention was focused not on the material but on the offscreen gossip. The comedy was the brainchild of Darren Star, who’d created “Beverly Hills, 90210″; Aaron Spelling (“90210″ exec producer) was demanding “Grosse” changes, since the show apparently hit a nerve. While all this got “Grosse” a lot of free publicity, the gossip overshadowed the show’s quality, which was great. But it’s gotten even better since then. The writers and producers seem to enjoy playing around with the overlap of reality and fiction. “Grosse Pointe,” on the WB, is about a fictional series, also called “Grosse Pointe,” which also appears on the WB. With rapid-fire jokes about Tom & Nicole, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Margot Kidder, and with guests like Sarah Michelle Gellar, Elizabeth Berkley and Dweezil Zappa spoofing themselves, “Grosse” hilariously skewers pop culture, making it a worthy successor to “The Larry Sanders Show.” Great episode: When TV star Quentin King (Kohl Sudduth) is arrested in his parked car on a “712 charge” (he’s told that it’s police lingo for “celebrity with a prostitute”), he is forced to join Sex Obsessives Anonymous, where he meets Jason Priestley (who, of course, was in “90210”). Quentin wants to jump to the end of his 12-step program (apologies and forgiveness), explaining that he’ll do the earlier steps when he’s on hiatus. The series, far more sophisticated than most WB offerings, already has been embraced by the critics (TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, Newsday, N.Y. Daily News, etc.) We’re just waiting for audiences and awards. “OZ” also has won over the critics, but its HBO audience is a fraction of “The Sopranos.’ ” And while NBC’s “The West Wing” won nine Emmys in its first season, “Oz” has racked up only a handful of nominations in four years. How can this be? All right, “Oz” isn’t always easy going. As soon as a sympathetic character enters Oswald State Correctional Facility, you’re pretty sure he’s gonna get raped or knifed, or both. But the show can be surprisingly funny (the prisoners are devoted to TV kiddie show hostess Miss Sally, because the puppets often rub up against her big breasts). Great episode: Prisoner Christopher Meloni tried to unnerve nun Rita Moreno by adding seductive undertones to their innocuous conversation. His manipulation and her reactions made the scene sexy, funny and creepy at the same time. Since then, the plots have thickened, involving the Aryan Brotherhood, led by Schillinger (the amazing J.K. Simmons), vs. the Muslims, the Catholics vs. the Bible Belters, and the O’Reily brothers vs. just about everybody, including the dominatrix guard Claire (Kristin Rohde), who’s sexually harassing both of them. It’s fun for the whole family. All right, it’s fun for the whole Manson family. But the actors, directors and writers are tops. “IRON CHEF,” on the Food Network, is a cooking competition from Japan that features people who are inexplicably intense. As a surrealistic bonus, it’s dubbed (shades of “Mothra”-“Rodan”-“Godzilla” movies) by U.S. actors who expertly duplicate the rapid, overlapping dialogue from people who often have their mouths full. “Iron” is a combo cooking show-gameshow, in which two chefs must concoct a multitude of dishes in one hour. Their challenge: They can’t plan recipes in advance since the key ingredient is announced only at the top of the show. Great episode: Smoke and rapturous music built up to the revelation that the mystery ingredient was Spanish mackerel. In front of a studio audience, the reigning champ, the challenger and their assistants ran around Kitchen Stadium, while a string of announcers tried to guess what they were creating (“How could I expect him to do this?”). Their frenzy was matched by a constantly interrupting floor interviewer with the intensity of a Chihuahua on uppers. (He drew gasps from the announcers with his news flash, “It has just come to my attention that the white sauce is kudzu starch and water!”). Meanwhile, an unseen announcer cooed about the six dishes from the challenger (including soup in which the cinnamon “adds a magical touch to the fat from the mackerel head”). But Iron Chef Chen won over the judges with his five concoctions, as the announcer enthused, “The fish innards, warmed in milk and combined with jellyfish and cabbage, make an excellent and subtle starter.” Now be honest: Can eating rats on “Survivor” or the killing of a pig on “Survivor II” match this?
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