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The sad reality of summer TV

Faced with a motor-mouthed Shatner or Shaq-ing up for a ”Big Challenge,” reviving the summer network rerun tradition starts looking good to the Glutton. Plus: his ”Sopranos” obsession, top five preppy villains of the ’80s, and your mail

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The sad reality of summer TV

Can you believe how shocking that Lost finale was? You know, with Charlie’s death, the flash-forward, and Jack’s ridiculous-looking Chia Beard. What’s that? You missed it? Hey, no problem. You can simply check it out when it re-airs…um, never! The summer rerun is slowly becoming a thing of the past, especially for serialized programs. Gone are the days when we could join any show late and be comforted in the knowledge that those missed early episodes were waiting for us once June rolled around. I never really thought I would curse the day when networks offered us year-round original programming, but that was before said original programming included William Shatner driving around a racetrack in something called Fast Cars & Superstars. This ”high-octane” reality show is just one of the many offerings ABC is choosing to present instead of trying to win back Lost fans. There’s Ex-Wives Club, a show in which Marla Maples gives advice to the recently divorced, and Shaq’s Big Challenge, which, on the plus side, tackles the issue of child obesity. (On the minus side, it features the star of Kazaam.) And let’s not forget about The Next Best Thing, whose goal is to find America’s best celebrity impersonator. (Note: Shows that blatantly impersonate American Idol are not eligible.)

But it’s not just ABC — there is plenty of blame to go around. If you came late to the Heroes party and were hoping to see how it all began, you’ll have to wait at least two more months. But look what NBC has in store for you instead: Age of Love! It’s a dating program featuring tennis star Mark…Philipreposterous? Philadelphia? Phili… Hell, I can’t even spell his name, much less care about his show. Meanwhile, over at CBS, instead of Survivor: Fiji, the network is showing Pirate Master, which, come to think of it, is actually the same exact show — so I suppose I have no beef there. That leaves us with Fox. I fell off the most recent seasons of 24 and Prison Break, but I’d still like to know how they end. Instead, the only mystery I’ve been left to unravel is why everyone keeps disappearing from On the Lot. In less than a week, Fox’s reality filmmaking competition lost six contestants, one host (Chelsea Handler), millions of viewers, even Brett Ratner — with barely any explanation whatsoever. I have an explanation: The show stinks!

But it’s not just crummy network summer offerings that make me long for the days of reruns. It’s also that many of these hibernating serialized shows are just so dang good. I could — and would — watch Heroes‘ recent ”possible future” episode or the Ben flashback installment of Lost as many times as the networks dared to air them. In fact, they practically demand repeat viewings if you want to figure everything out. And tell me that the carefree comedy of Ugly Betty — which seems practically made for the lazy days of June — wouldn’t be just as delicious on a second serving. You can’t, because it would be. If it were on right now.

I know what you’re thinking: Why don’t I just wait for the DVD or go watch these programs online? The answer is simple: I’m cheap. C’mon, paying for network television? It just seems wrong. And while I could bypass iTunes and get the episodes straight from the network website for free, I don’t have any desire to watch TV on my computer while sitting at a desk. I want TV on my TV! While I stretch out on the couch, spill Cheez Doodles on the rug, and blame the kids for the mess. Instead of that bliss, we’re faced with networks that are less concerned with building — and rewarding — an audience for a new drama like Heroes than wasting our time with a tennis player like Mark…Philipasta? Philimpossible? Oh, you know who I’m talking about.

THE TOP FIVE MOST AWESOMELY PREPPY ’80S MOVIE VILLAINS

1. James Spader in Pretty in Pink
The white suit. The dangling cigarette. Quite simply, the prep villain against which all others must be measured.

2. William Zabka in The Karate Kid
More of a lifetime achievement award for his jerk work in Karate, Back to School, and Just One of the Guys.

3. Ted McGinley in Revenge of the Nerds
The notorious ”show killer” simply kills as Stan Gable. The sweater-tied-around-the-neck look is classic McGinley.

4. Craig Sheffer in Some Kind of Wonderful
He’s ripping off my boy Spader a bit. Which could be why Lea Thompson dumps him.

5. Aaron Dozier in Better Off Dead
The thinking man’s preppy ’80s villain, he even comes complete with the totally badass name of Roy Stalin.

NEXT PAGE: Dalton explains his small Sopranos Obsession and answers your mail

OBSESSION OF THE WEEK

This Sunday, we will finally say goodbye to one of the most important dramas in television history, The Sopranos. Ken Tucker wrote an essay about the show in this week’s EW magazine (#939, on newsstands Friday, June 8) that is about 20 times more eloquent than anything I could say, so I won’t try to wax too poetic. But I will say this: What made the show so special for me was not just the big death scenes, but rather the smaller moments. The way David Chase guided the show to linger on a shot a few beats longer than you were expecting, the way James Gandolfini would lumber around while breathing heavily through his nose, the way Edie Falco would fix her hair in the mirror. Even though this was a drama about gangsters, the characters were so real and relatable, and the beauty of it was as much in the mundane details as the mad whackings. Plus, with The Sopranos going off the air and the Nets moving to Brooklyn, what the hell are we Jersey folk supposed to brag about? Joe Piscopo?

READER MAIL

Last week I wrote about how conversing with celebrities is usually a waste of time for both parties involved. And your encounters with famous folk seem to back that up…

A couple of years ago I was visiting NYC with some friends, and walking down the street was none other than Rosie O’Donnell. My reaction as she walked by us: “Oh-my-god it’s Rosie O’Donnell.” Her reaction: non-amused disgust. Let’s just say it didn’t end with pictures and autographs. —Natalie A.

Natalie, are you sure your real name isn’t…Elisabeth Hasselbeck?!?

I saw Ross from Friends in London’s West End one time, walking down this rather quiet street with a friend carrying some groceries. Obviously I recognized him, and I did everything in my power not to do a double-take (if it had been Johnny Depp, I may not have been so successful)…and I CERTAINLY wasn’t going to try and talk to him. Dude has a life, and it’s ridiculous that people try to talk to famous people just because they recognize them. I have friends who used to work in fast food, and they love NOTHING more than “Oh, don’t you work at McDonald’s???” Yeah, just because you recognize someone doesn’t mean that you should talk to them. Leave ’em alone. I agree with you. Granted, if it had been Johnny Depp, I might have very slyly asked for some directions, without letting on that I had recognized him. :) —Melanie Rosenblath

Nice show of restraint, Melanie. Let us know what happens should you ever come across the Deppster.

Here’s my horrible celeb encounter: Brian de Palma. I was volunteering for the Toronto Film Fest and was asked to guard the door to a theatre where the re-cut version of A Touch of Evil was going to screen. Under no circumstances was I to leave my post or let anyone in, orders that I dutifully followed. So I see Brian de Palma heading towards me. I think, Wow, Brian de Palma’s coming to ask me a question! So I say, ”Hello, Mr. De Palma….” Then he walks right past me and into the theatre. I meekly say, ”I’m sorry, sir, we’re not letting anybody in yet.” He comes back out and says gruffly, ”I know that!” Then asks, ”Has Janet arrived yet?” I knew he meant Janet Leigh, since she was expected to attend the screening. ”I don’t know, but those gentlemen over there might,” I say, pointing towards some festival officials. Then he says with the iciest, haughtiest tone I’ve ever heard, ”So why don’t YOU go ask them?” All I can muster is a nervous ”Yes, sir,” and do as he says, though in my mind I’m thinking, ”Yeah, like you’ve made anything worth seeing in the past ten years.” That was in the late 1990s. And he STILL hasn’t made anything uncrappy. —Alan Wong

Well, think of it this way, Alan. He could have gone over there and talked to the other gentlemen, but he chose you! He chose to talk to you! You’re a freakin’ celebrity magnet! Get on with your bad self.

I was eating dinner at Mike Ditka’s restaurant in Chicago with my father and my brother when word spread around that Coach Ditka himself was drinking at the bar. After paying the bill we went to take a look and there he is, red-faced and flanked by two blondes. Clearly he was busy and I thought we should leave him alone, but the rest of the restaurant disagreed and so did my father. So I was forced into an awkward picture that neither I nor Coach Ditka wanted to be in. Not exactly mortifying, but it would have been nice to meet him sober and not hitting on girls half his age. —Cassie Belek

Cassie, what is upsetting about this story is not that you bothered the man for a photo. Nor is it that Ditka may have possibly been acting a bit unsavory. No, what I find troubling is that you do not send this glorious picture for all to enjoy. Your pain should be our gain.

I never actually got up the guts to talk to a celebrity, but I live in Reno, so every now and again, I’ll happen to see someone in town for a show or golf tournament or something — and I don’t know why, but it never fails — I always scream like Jamie Lee Curtis being chased by Michael Myers. It’s a very bizarre factoid about me. I have no control over it and I’m not proud of it. I scared the bejezzus out of Michael Jordan. —Merrie Leininger

I never got the screaming thing. If one wants to interact with a celebrity, is screaming at them really gonna seal the deal? Still, Merrie, I love the fact that you not only recognize your screaming impulse, but advertise it. Let’s just hope Mike Ditka never makes it to Reno. Doesn’t strike me as the type of guy you want to scream at.

Which would you prefer: quality repeats or crappy original programming? Any thoughts on the end of The Sopranos? And who’s your favorite Awesomely Preppy ’80s Movie Villain? Send your questions, comments, and quibbles to theglutton@ew.com, or just fill out the handy-dandy form below. See ya next week!

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