Mr. TV: College Try

As we shuffle zombie-like into the current TV season, the biggest new hit is, surprisingly, thriller The Walking Dead on AMC, which further proves that there is plenty of room for success on cable outside of the summer.  

Beyond the new undead genre cracked by AMC—the network is seeing young demos in its ratings stats like never before—TBS is hoping to capitalize on the broadcast networks’ sluggish fall with a new hour-long comedy called Glory Daze, the story of a group of friends trying to navigate through college in 1980s Wisconsin. The series opens Tuesday at 10 p.m., and the only recognizable cast member (excluding Brad Garrett and Cheri Oteri guest starring as parents in the pilot) is SNL’s Tim Meadows as a straight-laced professor.

The main problem with Glory Daze from the get-go is casting overkill. By the end of episode one, I was struggling to remember who was who. And if you don’t feel a quick connection with any of the characters, that TV remote starts looking awfully appealing. But hey, since it’s certainly no easy feat introducing an ensemble piece in just one hour, I will try to exercise some patience here.

What I do like about Glory Daze is the premise, which coincided with when I went to college (note to show runner: I expect to be dazzled with all the fun times I somehow missed). And a 2010 comedy set in the 1980s reminds me of when 1970s ABC starters Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley were based in the 1950s (and in Wisconsin to boot). For some odd reason, throwback comedies tend to end up in Wisconsin. That 70s Show completes the circle.

Excluding short-lived Fox spinoff clinker That 80s Show (which spun off from Ashton Kutcher and company), I don’t recall anything recently being set in that decade. Expect really big (and bad) hair, worse clothing and music that was more like bubble-gum than anything with any substance.

As for college-based shows, I’ll remind you that there was an acute lack of interest in the Animal House TV show clones (Delta House, Brothers & Sisters and one-episode wonder Co-Ed Fever) and painfully bland Cosby Show spin-off A Different World.

But I admire TBS’ attempt to put a new spin on an old formula. If the core characters are adequately developed within the early weeks, I think it could draw sampling from TBS’ core audience and ’80s nostalgia seekers in acid-wash.

I also care more about who these students are than watching beer chugging at a frat party. Give the characters some depth and make sure there is a soft side to Meadows as the authoritarian. (Do we need a male version of Glee’s Sue Sylvester?)

I have always maintained that NBC’s beloved but short-lived Freaks and Geeks in the 1999-2000 season could have survived outside of the traditional broadcast platform. So, let’s see if airing a similar show on cable actually works. The biggest advantage of the TBS platform is the multiple airings and lower expectations.

One night after Glory Daze’s premiere is the second-season start of Human Target, which Fox wisely moved out of the Friday low HUT-level death trap to the safer confines of Wednesday at 8 p.m. But facing CBS’ Survivor: Nicaragua and ABC’s steadily improving The Middle will be no easy feat, and I have no recollection of the water-coolers abuzz over Mark Valley as a private contractor, bodyguard and security agent who protects his partners by becoming the human target.

The ratings-challenged series was granted a second season primarily because Fox had hours to fill on its schedule. It’s too bad, actually, it doesn’t  air on a cable network like USA or FX where it might have the time to find its focus and footing. But in the cluttered network environment, it’s basically lost in the shuffle on Fox.  

It will be lucky to make it into January.