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by Tim Riley - Feb. 9, 2005
THE SUPER BOWL’S LAUNCHING PAD FOR FOX NETWORK LIFTOFF
A Special Article by Tim Riley
The network that has been known for “American Idol” banked on the Super Bowl to launch “American Dad,” a curious decision in that this subversive animated series from animator Seth MacFarlane won’t start its regular run until May. MacFarlane provides the voice to CIA agent Stan Smith, so nervously plugged into all terror alerts that he obsessively worries something terrible could go wrong somewhere at some point. Well, the point of “American Dad” seems to be to make fun of everything in a way that is crude, lame and, well, pointless. The one funny character is the sarcastic space alien Roger (again the voice of MacFarlane) rescued from Area 51, who lives in the attic and is forced to watch “I Love the ‘80s” marathons.
Was this year’s Super Bowl a successful launching pad for the FOX network? That’s hard to say, given that the ratings were down a bit from last year. The apparent inevitability of the New England Patriots may have caused enough people to lose interest midway into the second half. Even the half time show seemed inevitably programmed to minimal surprises. There was no chance of a “wardrobe malfunction” this time, and we can be thankful for that, considering that we were all spared any type of clothing breakdown involving an aging Beatle.
Now, back to the question of “American Dad,” it should be noted that this type of animated program appeals to a younger demographic crowd, pretty much the same group that found “Family Guy” entertaining. These two cartoon series find their common link in creator Seth MacFarlane. And the past history of “Family Guy” may indicate the future of “American Dad.” The former lasted three years on FOX, only to find new life in reruns on the Cartoon Network and the DVD marketplace. “American Dad” may take time to find its footing, only to bounce around in ancillary markets before emerging once again from oblivion. I don’t know how it will turn out, but if I did, I could start a new career as an overpaid TV executive with a nifty corner office.
After a few years of absence from the network’s schedule, the subversively irreverent comedy of “Family Guy” returns for a fourth season in May. Displaying his talent for playing multiple characters, Seth MacFarlane will be the voice of the family patriarch Peter Griffin as well as that of the diabolically clever baby Stewie who’s bent on world domination and the brainy household pooch Brian who has a penchant for dry martinis. For “American Dad,” MacFarlane slacks off a bit, playing only two characters, the head of the household and the alien. However, since both animated comedies will air on the same nights starting in May, MacFarlane could easily suffer a personality disorder trying to keep up with his multitude of offbeat characters.
Hey, I almost forgot about “American Idol,” which started up again in January its perpetual search for the next singing sensation. The popularity of this show has so far eluded my comprehension. It’s not the amateur talent that is troubling. For the most part, they seem rather appealing. Yet, am I alone in finding that host Ryan Seacrest mildly annoying? He should stick to radio, where personality remains vaguely anonymous. And don’t get me started on the bilious Simon Cowell. Can we not cancel his green card and send this fatuous gasbag back to the United Kingdom? Incomprehensibly, the Brits seem amused by twits unable to say anything pleasant about anyone.
Just recently, speaking to a gathering of TV critics, Gail Berman, president of FOX Entertainment, said that “the audience expects loud things” from the network. She wasn’t referring to Simon Cowell. She was talking about the network’s willingness to gamble on a controversial program like “Who’s Your Daddy?” FOX dares to succeed or fail on a grand scale. But for now, it is difficult to see where the network will take its next great leap of faith.
Premiering in March, the new comedy series “Life on a Stick” about two best friends taking a job at a mall food court sounds vaguely derivative and formulaic. Just out of high school, the two buddies (Zachary Knighton and Charlie Finn) end up at the lame “Yippie, Hot Dogs” stand. One guy meets the girl of his dreams, but he continues to live rent-free at home as long as he keeps an eye on his angst-ridden little stepsister. Of course, the mom and dad are superficial and dysfunctional, and then there’s the baby brother who’s the object of obsession for the parents. This is not likely to be a ground-breaking show.
Still to be scheduled with a certain date, the new drama series “The Inside” centers on a rookie female FBI agent in the Violent Crimes Unit who uses her traumatic past to put herself in the mindset of both the villain and the victim. This too sounds derivative and very much like a TV series of a few years back, the name of which escapes me. In any case, Rachel Nichols plays the agent determined to break free of her routine desk job and venture out into the field to tackle dangerous assignments. She is soon recruited by Peter Coyote to track down serial killers and proves skilled at her new position, holding back the secret that she was once a victim herself of kidnapping.
Also waiting a schedule slot, “Hell’s Kitchen” is a culinary boot camp that features a group of wannabe Cordon Bleu cooks and aspiring restaurateurs running a top-class restaurant overseen by a terrifying Head Chef. The culinary mogul is Gordon Ramsay, another British import who serves up helpings of terror and fear in the kitchen. Adapted from a British series, “Hell’s Kitchen” will follow competing chefs, capturing the drama, intrigue and high emotion as the restaurant’s opening night approaches. I don’t know about this one. Just recently, I saw Adam Sandler playing an ambitious chef in “Spanglish” and I may not need to be tossed into the cauldron of haute cuisine intrigue once again.
We’ll just have to see if “loud things” are happening at FOX this winter and spring.
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