General News

CHANNEL SURFER: Fox-y Stuff

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Mar 19, 2001 | 11:50am EST

We're declaring this Fox Week here at Channel Surfer. We make this declaration based on the fact that the network has more mentions (four) this week than it's had all year. And, in a twist, none of its highlighted programming involves driving a motorcycle head-on into a train or a staging marriage between strangers.

Almost forgotten within the clutter of reality based programming offered by Fox ("and by "reality based," we mean "stupid"), is the fact that the network also offers two of the most intelligent half-hour comedies on network TV -- "The Simpsons" and "Malcolm in the Middle." Strangely enough, these series also happen to be Fox's two highest-rated shows. Hmmm …

"The Simpsons" (8 p.m. EST/PST, tonight) changed network comedy for the better more than a decade ago and carried the fledgling Fox on its back for years. It's not as fresh as it once was, but the truth is, it's an amazing accomplishment that, after 12 years, it's still any good at all. Remember how bad "M*A*S*H" got toward the end? "The Simpsons" is still funny, and, occasionally, even inspired. Tonight is another "flash forward" episode that sees Lisa become president of the United States while Bart becomes her own personal Billy Carter.

Usually a comedy has to be on basic cable to be as smart and funny as "Malcolm in the Middle" (8:30 p.m. EST/PST, tonight). (Of course, if Fox's overall ratings get much lower, it'll qualify for basic-cable status.) In any case, in this all new "Malcolm," hurricane mom (Jane Kaczmarek) loses her job. Take cover.

From the network (E!) that brought you digitized cube things over naked women's breasts comes "Best Actress" (9 p.m. EST/PST, tonight). Considering the source, "Best Actress" is a very nice surprise. It's a satire on the lives of Hollywood starlets during awards season. There's still plenty of the sex-'n'-scandal stuff we've come to expect from E!, but "Best Actress" doesn't forget that it's supposed to be clever and funny, too. And it is.

Also tonight, VH-1 offers a double shot of Elton John. First up is a brand new episode of the venerable documentary series "Behind the Music" (9 p.m. EST/PST), reliving 30 years of Elton's music, his, uh, flamboyance, the prerequisite drug addictions and most importantly his giant, wacky sunglasses. This is followed by "Elton John's Road to El Dorado" (10 p.m. EST/PST), featuring performances of new music from the upcoming DreamWorks animated film, and some old classics, from the Venetian Room in San Francisco.

ABC follows up last week's "Satan's School for Girls," with "A Tale of Two Bunnies" (8 p.m. EST/PST, Monday). And the tradition of quality continues. The best thing about this look inside the world of two 1960s-era Playboy Bunnies (newcomers Marina Black and Julie Condra) is that it really brings out what a nice job E! has done in parodying sleaziness with its own new movie (see above).

Another strong mid-season replacement pops up on Fox (making you wonder, "What was the deal with the beginning of the season?"), when "Titus" debuts at 8:30 p.m. EST/PST, Monday. Comedian Christopher Titus is very believable in the role of himself, as he turns his autobiographical one-man show "Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding" into a sitcom. Stacy Keach co-stars as his father -- the early influence and driving force behind his life-long struggle to find the comedy amid the dysfunction.

In its continuing effort to not be perceived as a subsidiary to the World Wrestling Federation, UPN offers "The Beat" (9 p.m. EST/PST, Tuesday). Produced by Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson ("Homicide"), "The Beat" offers "Homicide"-like story lines but with younger, sexier cops at its center. Also, in an attempt to separate itself from the pack, it introduces a new way to annoy the audience -- instead of a camera that just shakes a lot (like in "NYPD Blue"), "The Beat" camera switches back and forth between standard film and video (like "COPS").

For fans of "Behind the Music" or "E! True Hollywood Story"-style documentaries, check out TV Land's "Inside TV Land," (10 p.m. EST/PST, Tuesday). Nick's spin-off network serves up the dirt on some of the most beloved staples of American pop culture. This week's episode takes a look at "The Andy Griffith Show." Remember when Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue died of a heroin overdose and came back to life in the ambulance? The "Andy Griffith" thing probably won't be quite like that.

And, as the celebration of Fox Week continues, it's time to look at the American Comedy Awards (8 p.m. EST/PST, Thursday). This is one awards show where you would think the presenters and recipients might have something entertaining (and/or funny) to say. The show was taped last month, and word is that Steve Martin, Chris Rock, Martin Short and many more actually managed to do just that.

And finally, ABC serves up another grand experiment in reality based television with MTV Productions' "Making the Band" (9 p.m. EST/PST, Friday). If you're looking for something different and innovative, this might work for you. Combining the voyeuristic soap opera effect of MTV's "The Real World" with the screaming-teen factor of its hit countdown show "Total Request Live" (not to mention a generous helping of "The Monkees"), this show smells like it's going to pull in an audience. The plot? We follow the lives of 25 young, singin' and dancin' guys as they vie for just five spots in a brand-new boy band. It sounds annoying, sure, but that's what we thought about "The Real World" just before we started taping the episodes and trading them with our friends.

Happy Fox Week, everybody! Drive safely, and don't forget to celebrate with someone you love!

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