`Wednesday' not really worth the time of day

Preview: This new ABC sitcom fails in its aim to effectively satire network television.

March 27, 2002|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Satirizing the television industry is a very tricky business. For satire, you need outrage, and it is hard to be more outrageous than the industry is itself.

Is there any kind of lying, back-stabbing or lowest-common-denominator money-grubbing by television executives that would surprise, let alone outrage us these days? Was anyone truly shocked to find out that Disney management was trying to replace Nightline behind Ted Koppel's back because the show made a profit of only $13 million for ABC?

Beyond the medium's seemingly limitless capacity for self-debasement, another problem with trying to satirize it is that no one will probably ever do it better than Paddy Chayefsky did 25 years ago in the film Network. The much sunnier sitcom satire of The Mary Tyler Moore Show wasn't half bad, either, with its final prophetic message to baby boomers not to get too attached to the workplace-newsroom, because one day it will be sold and the only staffer kept on will be Ted Baxter.

This bit of history helps explain why I am so underwhelmed by the new ABC sitcom, Wednesday 9:30 (8:30 Central). Its satire is obvious, obnoxious, heavy-handed and mainly makes me want to yawn. The most striking thing about the series is that management at ABC apparently thinks it is edgy. It's also a little sad to see John Cleese working in junk like this - although Cleese does not appear to be working very hard.

The series is set at the fictional IBS network; the fledgling broadcaster is supposed to remind us of UPN, the WB or Fox in its early days. Cleese plays Red, the Australian owner of the network - an obvious reference to media baron Rupert Murdoch. But don't tune in just to see Cleese, because he has a small role, and he sleepwalks through it.

The big role belongs to Ivan Sergei (Jack & Jill) as David Weiss, a young programming executive brought to Hollywood from Minneapolis, where he previously worked in regional theater. He's supposed to be our Mary Richards - the honest, wide-eyed naif from Minneapolis. In this case, he comes to the wicked West Coast.

In the pilot, Weiss is absolutely star-struck in meeting Lori Loughlin (Full House), star of IBS' fictional sitcom The Three of Us. He makes suggestions about how to improve her character, and she invites him to dinner. He thinks she likes him, and one thing leads to another. One of those things is a sexual harassment lawsuit that she files against him.

There are a lot of so-called jokes in the pilot, many of them suggesting that women use trumped-up sexual harassment lawsuits to get promotions. There also are multiple jokes about Jews, gays and blacks.

Virtually all the African-American jokes are built on the premise that blacks are promoted only because they are black. The Jew and gay jokes are about the number of these minorities in the entertainment industry.

Maybe the Rev. Billy Graham will find Wednesday 9:30 (8:30 Central) funnier than I did. I'll bet Walt Disney would have, too.


What: New sitcom,Wednesday 9:30 (8:30 Central)

Where: WMAR (Channel 2)

When: tonight at 9:30

In brief: A sorry attempt to satirize network television

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