Remember when people you knew watched ABC? Yeah, me neither. If there’s any doubt as to why the network is in trouble, has dragged down Disney for much of the last seven years and emperiled Michael Eisner’s job, just take a look at its new lineup of shows for this fall.
Monday nights at 8 p.m. this fall brings us The Benefactor, perhaps the most craven ripoff of a hit show in recent memory. Let me know when this starts to sound familiar: A billionaire businessman will give away $1 million to one of 16 competing contestants. Any similarities between The Benefactor and The Apprentice are purely intentional. Hey, come on, it’s a totally different show! The Benefactor gives away the money; you don’t have to work for it. And The Benefactor has Mark Cuban as its attention-starved billionaire jerk. He made his fortune. Well, he got lucky and sold a pretty thin premise of a web site, Broadcast.com, to Yahoo for billions and then cashed out at the right time, but it’s still better than getting a leg up in the New York real estate market from your dad.
(Not to digress too much, but when exactly did having at least one billion dollars no longer suffice? Now you have to star in your own reality show to have any cachet? Was Cuban having trouble getting good tables at popular restaurants? Was he not attracting the highest-quality arm candy gold-digging supermodel groupies? When does the Warren Buffett Good Time Happy Hour debut on ABC?)
What the hell are they thinking over there at ABC? Mostly, sex. On Wednesdays at 10 is Wife Swap, a reality show where, well, I guess you can guess what happens. Although ABC says that the wives who trade places for a week get private sleeping arrangements, clearly the title is meant to titillate. I’m not sure how the whole tacit swingers endorsement fits in with Disney’s general corporate outlook, but I’ll let the folks at the Citizens for Family Values worry about that. And, worse, even this idea is also a derivative ripoff! It’s based on a British show (if the Brits didn’t have TV, where would Americans get their ideas for shows?), and more tellingly, on the 1973 Yankees pitching staff. (Bonus points for anyone who remembers that one.)
Matching Wife Swap in sublety is Desperate Housewives (Sundays at 9), which, according to the New York Times is about “the secret sex lives of suburbanites.” In other words, Peyton Place 2004 with more dirty parts. One of the shows that just missed the cut was called “Doing It,” about three teenage boys’ preoccupation with sex. In other words, Losin’ It without Tijuana and Tom Cruise! (Bonus points for all you 80s teen sex comedy aficionados who remember that one.)
To compensate for all this lasciviousness, ABC has scheduled Savages (Fridays at 8:30), a new comedy from Mel Gibson and based on his life raising a bunch of unruly boys. Keith Carradine stars as the dad. No word on whether the sitcom will be in Aramaic with subtitles.
Up next: the WB and CBS.