Mr. TV: Playing Games

With the Vancouver Winter Olympic  Games concluding this Sunday, it’s all about NBC again this week. Hopefully the network’s brass will soak in every moment of this impressive victory because by next week, the network will probably slip back to fourth place again.

But also worth noting this week is Fox’s American Idol, which airs the first live results show on Thursday as four contestants (two male and two female) will be sent packing. In this final season with outspoken Simon Cowell (who is exiting for his upcoming U.S. version of U.K. hit The X Factor) and first with Ellen DeGeneres, the veteran musical competition continues to stand well above anything else in prime time.

Historically, American Idol is only the second established series to lead the charts in its ninth season. Take a stab at what the first one was: The Ed Sullivan Show? All in the Family? Happy Days?  Dallas? Gunsmoke? Give up yet? It was actually the little pub where “everybody knows your name,” Cheers, and that was in the 1990-91 season. But will Idol maintain its dominance next season and beyond?

The answer to that, of course, lies in the person chosen to replace Cowell. Since overrated Ellen is not really qualified to judge young music hopefuls (do we really want to see dancing, happy-go-lucky Ellen put on a serious face in prime time and crush someone’s dreams?), I vote for music exec Tommy Mottola. He is qualified and has already appeared as a guest judge. Forget the rumors about Howard Stern. I mean, can you imagine the loudmouth shock jock verbally sparring with DeGeneres?

Rumor has it, meanwhile, that departed Paula Abdul, who is a shoe-in for a judge spot on Cowell’s The X Factor, could end up on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars in the upcoming season. Abdul is an airhead, I know. But I completely endorse this because she is a choreographer. These non-scripted entries should use qualified talent if they want to be taken seriously by viewers.

Also debuting this week is NBC’s The Marriage Ref, which previews out of the Olympics closing ceremony, then heads to Thursdays at 10 p.m.  Jerry Seinfeld is the creator and producer of this nonscripted look at marriage as celebrities, comedians and sports stars decide who’s right and who’s wrong in actual spats between spouses. Sounds like hilarious escapism from the everyday stress and struggle of married life, right?

Personally, I cannot stand Seinfeld, who I had the displeasure of meeting shortly after his long-running sitcom debuted in 1991. It is not worth rehashing in detail, but I was so turned off I could never really enjoy Seinfeld the sitcom again. I find it ironic that Seinfeld is suddenly an expert on marriage. I mean, didn’t he basically start courting his then-married wife Jessica shortly after she returned from her three-week honeymoon to hubby No. 1?

The Olympics, naturally, will offer NBC a huge promotional boost, with much of it wasted on this rubbish. More deserving is upcoming scripted drama Parenthood, which is based on the 1989 Ron Howard theatrical. I still don’t understand why the network would roll the dice on a show based on a movie more than 20 years old that already failed once as a regularly scheduled series. Have the execs at NBC forgotten there was a short-lived half-hour
Parenthood headlined by former St. Elsewhere star Ed Begley Jr. in the fall of 1990? NBC was so optimistic about that version of Parenthood, in fact, it was actually thinking of airing it twice a week. Rule of thumb when programming a network: If it failed once, don’t try it again.