A couple of links to articles on shows premiering tonight. Jennifer Dichtburn covers the CBC’s new show “Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays,” very confusingly scheduled for Wednesdays (at 9 p.m. ET) from The Drowsy Chaperone and Slings & Arrows‘ Bob Martin and Don McKellar, starring Martin and Matt Watts.
And Daniel Fienberg has a takedown of H8R, a new reality show where Slater from Saved By the Bell helps celebrities get back at people who are poorer and less famous than they are. No, really. In a complete reversal of one of the most important tenets of entertainment – we root for the slobs against the snobs, not vice-versa – the idea of H8R is to feed the victim complex of celebrities. I’m not saying all celebrities believe that everyone should love them and that the people who don’t are all “haters,” but some do, and they made a whole show about it. It’s like that Frasier episode where Frasier became obsessed with that one guy in the focus group who didn’t like his show. And Frasier was supposed to be completely obnoxious in that episode.
Finally, tonight’s the night NBC launches its new comedy hour with Up All Night and Free Agents, trying to get the jump on what will be some extremely tough competition in this hour. The big news about Up All Night is that it has been re-tooled somewhat to give a larger role to Maya Rudolph (and also because if they hadn’t retooled it, they’d have had back-to-back shows about people who work for PR firms). This seems like a good idea, since the material about two swinging parents raising a baby never seemed like it was enough to carry an entire show: opening it up into a hybrid family/workplace show gives it more places to go depending on what does or doesn’t work. And also, the comedy that many of these family shows are trying to imitate, Modern Family, is a success partly because it jumps around from family to family, place to place.
It’s also understandable that Maya Rudolph’s part would be beefed up, not only because of Bridesmaids but because she’s less of a known quantity than Christina Applegate, and her popularity has more room to grow. The interesting thing about NBC’s choices for this new block is that they are both built around familiar TV faces who never quite achieved true TV stardom. Hank Azaria, the star of Free Agents, is a great “hey, it’s that guy” actor (and voice, of course) who has never made it as a headliner. And Applegate has been starring in TV shows since the ’90s without ever exactly becoming a star – Jesse and Samantha Who? started out promisingly thanks in part to good time slots, then got canceled. Asking her to headline a show that leads off a whole evening is definitely a risk.
Though of course if the shows do well, it’ll be a risk that pays off. (This seems more likely for Up All Night, thanks to Lorne Michaels’ exceptional ability to promote his shows within NBC – 30 Rock went from struggling show to an anchor of NBC without ever really becoming a hit. Besides, Emily Spivey, the creator of the show, is a writer who has experience in sketch, sitcom and even King of the Hill.) It’s good to see a network building shows around people who aren’t absurdly young or trendy. The point is just that Applegate and Azaria are not really established TV stars, in the sense of having starred in a hit TV series. They are excellent performers who are somewhere on that line between supporting player and star. These shows will either push them over the line, or establish that they aren’t stars – but there’s a third option, the Maya Rudolph option, of rebuilding the show around a potential star.