Will viewers save these two great TV series?
By now, we’re used to hearing about the viewers of low-rated but cherished TV shows rallying around their favorites in an attempt to get their prized series renewed, and the ways in which the producers of those shows support such efforts. Case in point: Creator-producer Judd Apatow has sent critics the final two episodes of his terrific sitcom ”Undeclared,” along with a note urging writers to give the show some ink, which in turn may help convince Fox that this Tuesdays-at-8:30 show deserves another chance in what is one of TV’s most competitive nights (on any given week, ”Undeclared” is up against ”Gilmore Girls,” ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and anyone sleepy enough to watch Jim Belushi’s dumb sitcom).
The two episodes Apatow sent out are as good as any he’s produced all season. One of them is directed by Jon Favreau, of ”Swingers” fame, and features Ben Stiller, with Frank Zappa facial hair, as a goofball in sobriety. The other episode brings back recurring character Hilary, a slightly loony college dorm R.A. played by ”Saturday Night Live”’s Amy Poehler, who in a suitably unlikely turn of events, ends up getting it on with Loudon Wainwright III, who plays the schlumpy father of our hero, Steven (the wittily goofy Jay Baruchel).
I urge you to watch ”Undeclared,” even though I don’t have much hope for a show this good on Fox these days. Yes, this is the network that launched the excellent ”Bernie Mac Show” this year. But it’s also the network that let ”The Tick” die a hideous death, and which seemed to think it’s real runaway hit was going to be ”That ’80s Show,” its lame-even-for-its-decade ”’70s Show” spin-off.
Apatow knows he has a following among critics since his days both as writer for ”The Larry Sanders Show” and as the auteur of the superlative ”Freaks and Geeks.” It makes sense that he would appeal to sympathetic press people. Sometimes a grassroots campaign that beseeches both the press and the public, as occurred a couple of seasons ago when fans of ”Roswell” inundated TV critics and Fox with bottles of Tabasco sauce, can have a positive effect in lengthening the life of a series. Some producers couldn’t care less about their good notices, though. Witness ”Once and Again,” badly mishandled by ABC — shoved onto Friday nights at 10 this season with little promotion, even as the series was offering some of its finest work.
In some ways, I guess ”O and A” producer-creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick are right — why bother sending out episodes and campaigning for a show so obviously superior than 99 percent of the dramas on TV? You do the work, and begging or asking people to send the networks bottles of their favorite condiment is, in the ”O and A” scheme of things, a tad unseemly. Besides, I’m guessing that the recent announcement that one of ”O and A”’s increasingly important supporting players, Steven Weber, is taking over Matthew Broderick’s role in ”The Producers” doesn’t bode well for ”O and A”’s future, even if Weber is doing the show after ”O and A” wraps up its season.
Still, I wonder what you think: Are you more inclined to watch a show if you know it has a small but vociferous following, or do you just suppose that viewers are powerless to keep shows on the air? Either way, what low-rated shows do you hope will get renewed for the fall?