Television critics are always whining about somebody else’s scheduling. But we never step up and write a sked of our own, though that’s mostly because networks have the good sense not to hire us.
Well, for a change, we’re playing a little “what if” here. What if a critic could schedule his own network? And since this is Emmy season, what if I used only Emmy-winning shows? (This is my fantasy so I’m giving myself some advantages.)
We’ll pretend this schedule is going against the other networks’ most recent lineups in order to provide a bit of competish among certain shows.
By the way, when you have the range of television’s great shows at your disposal, you use a lot more comedies than we see today. Everyone knows how important comedies are to a schedule; it’s just that you generally want them to be, you know, funny.
Couple of other things: I’m using series from their Emmy-winning year or, if they’re multiple winners, from their best year. As I said, it’s my fantasy.
But even with the blue-chip crop I have to choose from, I’m starting to see how scheduling a full 22 hours could get to be a real pain.
We open with “The Cosby Show” at 8 p.m. Who doesn’t love “The Cosby Show”? I’m thinking its wide appeal will beat any other comedies. It should also be counterprogramming to “Fear Factor,” and, on the West Coast, to “Monday Night Football.” At 8:30, there’s “I Love Lucy,” because it seems a nice fit, and because what network would miss the chance to put on “I Love Lucy”?
“Everybody Loves Raymond” stays at 9 p.m. It worked for CBS, it’ll work for me. If they don’t have it anymore, hey, it’s not my problem. (And I’m kind of getting into this heartless network programmer role.)
“Arrested Development” gets the 9: 30 slot because I’m a TV critic, and like the most of my bunch, I love this show. I also still say it just needs a good lead-in, and the right night and … fine, whatever, I’m in denial. On the other hand, it might it actually be decent counterprogramming to “MNF.”
Then, “Ally McBeal” gets the 10 p.m. spot. First off, remember that in 1998-99, the year it won the comedy series Emmy, “Ally” was one of TV’s very hot shows and Fox’s top show. It’s also more counterprogramming to “MNF” and to “CSI: Miami” and, with its racier sensibilities, to “Medium.” Plus, a little romantic comedy seems a good way to start a week.
OK, here’s where I’m admitting to some inexperience. I can’t decide if I with “Taxi,” then “Barney Miller,” or the other way around. But I like “Taxi’s” broadness at 8 p.m. (not to mention its top-10 ratings in 1978-79), and “Barney Miller’s” slyness leading into my 9 p.m. show, “L.A. Law.”
“L.A. Law” gets that 9 p.m. assignment because it’s a bit serialized and I could build enough momentum through the fall to hang on when “American Idol” shows up in January. It’s also adult enough to offer some contrast to “Idol.” I hope.
At 10 p.m., there is only one choice, “NYPD Blue,” because it owned that slot for so long, and because back-to-back Bochco is never a bad idea.
“The Amazing Race” starts the night. Seems like a good time for some reality, and this show keeps building. But no more crossovers with “Survivor” — unless it’s Rupert.
At 9 p.m., it’s “The West Wing” circa 1999-2000, when the vision of a responsible, intelligent executive branch did not seem quite so ridiculous a notion. “The West Wing” was also flat-out great in its early years, and it would kill any other political series.
“Law & Order” finishes my Wednesday night, partly because it’s a ratings powerhouse, and partly because its Emmy-winning year (1996-97) still had Jerry Orbach playing Lenny. I miss Lenny.
This is an important night, so how’s this sound? We start with a little number called “Friends,” followed by a little number called “Frasier,” then a little number called “Seinfeld,” and a little number called “Cheers.” Now, that is must-see TV.
And, you know, when I have all those shows on my network, I find I’ve never been cockier. Suddenly, I understand what Jeff Zucker is all about.
At 10 p.m., I’m using one of the most reliable dramas in TV history, “ER,” season two, 1995-96. It was the No. 1 show on TV that season and “ER’s” tops for ratings. Bring on the current version of “Without a Trace.” We’re ready.
Even with everything I’ve got to pick from, this is still a tough night. I’ll have to lower my ratings expectations.
“The Waltons” gets the 8 p.m. spot. Don’t want anyone accusing me of ignoring family programming. “Northern Exposure,” clearly, has a very different feel from “The Waltons,” but both series have gentle souls, and they are sort of a family, too, up there in Cicely, Alaska.
“Hill Street Blues” goes at 10 p.m. This isn’t about ratings, it’s about quality. Any network would be proud to have that show on its air. However, I’m going with 1981-82 (it won ’80-’81 through ’83-’84), its best ratings year.
We’re making Saturday our Way-Back Night. Who watches broadcast television on Saturdays? Older viewers. And maybe some younger ones who spend time with TV Land and Nick at Nite. It’s not like there aren’t some high-end older shows to choose from.
So, it’s “The Dick Van Dyke Show” at 8 p.m., then “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Watch Mary grow up, and get spunky, before our eyes. Going from newsroom to newsroom, “Murphy Brown” gets the 9 p.m. slot, then, staying socially relevant, it’s “All in the Family” at 9:30.
For 10 p.m., I considered “Picket Fences,” “The Rockford Files” and “thirtysomething,” but I decided to stay somewhat in theme and go with “Lou Grant.” Mostly it’s because I’m a newspaper guy. What can I say?
I’m putting “The Simpsons” at 7 p.m. Yes, it’s early for “The Simpsons” but my Sunday is taking some risks. And, no, “The Simpsons” did not win for comedy series, but it has won plenty of animation Emmys.
Next comes “Get Smart” at 7:30 p.m. It’s almost a cartoon and Maxwell Smart needs to be on my schedule.
At 8 p.m. we go with “MASH,” then “Sex and the City” at 8:30. I see them both as adult, intelligent shows and I need something different with Sunday’s tough competition. Plus, I like both those shows and was running out of places to put them. I’m new at this, OK?
For 9 p.m., there is only one choice: “The Sopranos.” It’s a different audience from “Desperate Housewives” and 9 p.m. is “The Sopranos’ ” spot. As for the language, #*@& ’em, I say.
At 10 p.m., I’m back with “The Practice,” a terrific show in its prime and a drama that loves Sundays at 10. Besides, with the schedule I’ve drawn up, I might need a tough lawyer.
(Rick Kushman is the television critic for the Sacramento Bee.)