June 12, 2014

The do-it-yourself network

Courtesy www.allthingskevyn.com/
I got this email the other day from Kevyn Knox, author of the blog "All Things Kevyn," which by the way you should check out when you get the chance.  Anyway, Kevyn sent me a link to this wonderful post in which he gives us the programming schedule of the fictional NBS network - in other words, the kind of programming he'd do if he was in charge of a network.  And I loved it!

I wonder how many TV buffs out there have done something like this?  One of the reasons it appealed to me is that I did something very similar, back around 1990 or so.  I even wrote a schedule down, though I didn't go to the detail that Kevyn did in his piece.  I don't know where it is now, but there are still some shows that I remember from HBN, which of course stood for "Hadley Broadcasting Network."  (Ted Turner had nothing on me.)

The show I was most proud of was Sunday night's The Phil Collins Show.  It was modeled on the then-successful Tracey Ullman Show on Fox, a half-hour variety show.  Phil Collins was nearing the end of his productive music career at that point, sounding more and more like a white Lionel Richie.*  He'd settled into the bland last years of both his Genesis and solo careers, and it seemed to me to be a good time to transition into television.  My favorite episode idea: "This week's guest star is Eric Clapton.  In a skit, an exasperated man (Eric) can't rid himself of his annoying neighbor (Phil).  I think Collins could have extended his career by years with this show.

*No offense to Lionel; I use that example specifically because Phil Collins once said, in a Playboy interview, that he didn't want to wind up sounding "like a white Lionel Richie."  Of course, I only read the interview.

Another show I thought would work well was the late-night entry, The Bobby Rivers Show.  Bobby Rivers was a hot property at the time, with a real-life talk show on VH1, and I thought he would have made a terrific alternative to Leno and Letterman.  I'd imagine it would be something like the Graham Norton Show on BBC America.

I recall that my morning show, U.S.A.M., was three hours, long before Today went the same route.  It would have been mostly hard news, closer to the Today of Frank McGee.  I brought back What's My Line?, with the same genteel qualities that the original had - it was hosted by James Lipton, and Charles Grodin was one of the regular panelists.  I had a half-hour prime-time news program every night at 7pm (CT), and at 10:30, before Bobby Rivers, there was a national sports report.  Because I could, I brought back Voice of Firestone at 9:30pm Mondays, and being the ecumenical person I am, Wednesday night I had a half-hour show called The Pope Speaks, which would have been something like the old Bishop Sheen show.

The heavy drama series was a prize possession of mine called The Killers.  No, it isn't based on the Hemingway story that's spawned two terrific movies, but it did star Lee Marvin, who was still alive at the time.  (Today it would be Liam Neeson.)  The premise of The Killers was simple - a much more violent version of The Equalizer.  Marvin, and any associate he might have (in order to get the plural Killers, you know) were extremely sophisticated, professional assassins, who took jobs only through referral from past clients, and only if they were interested in the job.  They weren't really hitmen per se, but you hired them to do a job that seemed hopeless, where a hit might well be the only way out.  They'd only kill if necessary but, given the show's title, that was often the case.  But if they found out you'd deceived them, or were using them for personal gain (a philandering husband making up a story in order to hit his wife or mistress, for example), they'd come back and kill you.  Marvin had the toughness and weariness to pull off a series like this - and hey, he'd already starred in a movie by the same name.

Sleazy though this idea might be, the point of it was actually serious - to challenge the audience.  Here was a protagonist (Marvin) with whom the audience was clearly meant to identify.  The people he hunted down were child abusers, rapists, corrupt public officials, and the like.  You sympathized with their victims, and understood that Marvin was a last resort when all legal options had failed.  But you had to ask yourself this question: am I really comfortable rooting for a man who, in essense, is a well-paid murderer?  Does the end justify the means?  I still think this show would be extremely successful, particularly since anti-heroes have become more fashionable

And then there was a ridiculous show, I suppose my version of Walt Disney, called TV Cat Theatre, which was devoted to programs about cats - not just documentaries or nature programs, but dramas and comedies casting cats in the place of humans.  For example, I had an absurd idea for a Hawthornesque costume drama called "Snow White and the House of the Seven Cats." I probably shouldn't go into this any further if I want to have any credibility with my readers, but I will suggest that I certainly anticipated the advent of cat videos, didn't I?  TV Cat Theatre probably would have been the highest-rated show on the network.

There were other programs, enough to fill out a schedule, but most of them escape me now.  I had a couple of sitcoms, and a drama series or three including a lawyer show, and a reasonably heavy rotation of sports specials; maybe I'd brought back Friday Night Fights.  I do know that if I were putting a network together today, I'd commission something from David Lynch, and I'd introduce a regular news/documentary series that's more entertaining than the old-time documentaries, but not as trashy as today's tabloid newsmagazine shows.  And I'd make sure to have room for this drama.

But I fear in all of this I'm drawing attention to myself, when what I really wanted to do was point you Kevyn's way.  Go and check him out, and give him some hits.  I think this "what-if" programming is something many of us have done, and if you've got some ideas for TV series you'd like to see, whether somewhat realistic or far out there, I'd like to hear about them.  Maybe we can put together something better than what we're getting now.


  1. Hey, thanx for the plug (and kind words). The shows you created sound fun. I would have watched Lee Marvin in The Killers. Hell, I would have watched it rather religiously. Thanx again for the plug. See ya 'round the web. All Things Kevyn.

  2. This requires a set-up:

    Mystery*File is another blog I visit all the time, mainly concerned with crime fiction in all media.

    Some while back, I mentioned a Kraft Suspense Theater rerun I'd seen not long before: a pilot for a TV series version of Double Indemnity.
    This pilot starred Jack Kelly as Walter Neff and Broderick Crawford as Barton Keyes; as in the movie, they were insurance investigators, Neff doing the legwork and Keyes solving the mysteries. I'm guessing that Neff probably wouldn't be murdering anyone (at least at the beginning), but otherwise he'd pretty much be the house horndog, making the rounds of Universal's contract actresses (and there were a bunch of them back then).
    This was 1963 we're talking about; my post was almost fifty years later.
    Still, the other commenters on the blog were sufficiently enthused to come up with ideas of their own.
    I came up with one myself ...
    ... which brings me to this posting here.

    Presenting -
    ACE IN THE HOLE - The Series!.
    Chuck Tatum ( the Kirk Douglas character from the movie) is now in the cable-news business, which fits him as glove fits palm.
    I see this as an "arc" series, maybe 10-13 episodes per season. Each season would concern itself with one red-hot story, criminous, scandal-ridden, or both. Chuck Tatum, whose sole concern is making himself as prominent (and profitable) as possible, interferes, obstructs, suborns, creates evidence - anything to keep the story going as long as he can.
    The main problem I can see is that Tatum's machinations could only result in the stories never being resolved - much as in real life (you can fill in the real-life examples yourself). Once Chuck has fouled up his current story beyond all hope, he simply moves on to the next story (season).

    You know, the more I think about it, the more I think an Ace In The Hole series could work nowadays. Of course "arc" series work better on cable than broadcast networks, which can't seem to understand that you don't break the run up with preemptions and delays.

    But a cable outfit like A&E or TNT or FX would guarantee a straight-through run, assuring story flow.
    A short run each year would keep the show fresh - and (if we could get him) who'd be a better choice to play Chuck Tatum than Michael Douglas?

    OK, that's my idea. Whaddya think?


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