Pop Culture
Pop Culture: Articles for the Scripps Howard News Service & "Seen, Heard, Said"

Why the top-365-songs list isn't a stupid idea

Actors sink their teeth into vampire roles

Gregory Corso: My encounter with a Beat legend

Golden Globes: Sleazy and proud of it

In the offing, Clinton continent looms

"NYPD Blue" opener: The misery continues

 New movie genre: Reclusive authors anonymous

"West Wing," "Ally," et al.: Words, words, words

When TV shows outstay their welcome

Film critics dig their own graves with "Angels" review

Great Robert Altman films you never
heard of

Famous folk, next week in the arts, show business briefs

"Time regained": Proust in the multiplex

Glitterati is dead, long live Popfocus

Carl Barks: The man who put the ducks in Duckburg

"Almost Famous": Lester Bangs rises from the dead

Liz Hurley wins in war of words with Jane mag

Douglas poses with Zeta-Jones, and baby-makes three

Weddings that aren't: Douglas, Zeta-Jones, Madonna, Ritchie

The Emmy War: A half-century of coast-to-coast feuding

Jennifer Love Hewitt plays the Iglesias odds

It's raining books by and about Trumps

What's in a mane? Blond woman in the news

Liz Hurley denies dissing ex-beau

Rock Hall of Infamy: Anti-heroes from Elvis to Eminem

Barbra tix bankrupt fans

Laurels for Kathie Lee to rest on

Hillary "In bed" with De Niro, Cruise, Kidman

How "Sopranos," "West Wing" will divvy up awards

This just in: Donald Trump is not a dope

Walter Matthau: A rumpled old dog in the heart of the city

Sampras to take a stroke at wedding bells

Who wants to host "Monday Night Football"?

Queen rewards Tina Brown for demoralizing American readers

How the Korean War cane to TV land 20 years late

Ivanka Trump: From catwalk to commencement line

Lester Bangs: The troublesome punk who wouldn't die

Rags clash over Ted Turner "romance"

With straight face, Trump deems Marla's move "tacky"

"Friends" re-up for another season of top ratings, top money

Madonna in denial, and rightly so

"Suburbia": The continental subdivide

Howard Stern, Sly Stallone in bizarre, apocryphal triangle

Easter video viewing: "Spartacus" to "Harvey"

Billy’s in the news: Bob, Joel in love but not with other

"Charles's Angels" movie: Dispiriting news for old-time fans

Innovative career move for 'NYPD Blue' co-star

Top model: Why I gave oldish rocker husband the heave-ho

Unpleasantville: The awful truth about old-time TV families

Tina Brown held captive in desert by demanding children

Anybody's Oscar: Unusually suspenseful awards show looms

Oscar telecast: Looking for a few good hosts

"Lambs," "Beauty": Oscar's love affair with unacceptable behavior

Brad Pitt, Oscar to be in same room at same time

Letterman bites guest-host bullet: Andrew "Dice" Clay, call your agent

Seinfeld eyes East Hampton manse: Where's the welcome wagon?

"Mod Squad" Immortal dishes couple du jour

Brad Pitt's second thoughts about Oscar

Mike McCurry praises "West Wing": It's not entirely demeaning,,,"

Memo to "Hannibal" producers: Get Najimy while the getting's good

Don't Invite Gwyneth and Oscar to the same party

True or false: Douglas, Zeta-Jones don't even know each other

Ex-Clinton honcho linked to ex-"Cheers" costar

Third party cited in Trump-Knauss breakup

 Gossip queen goes to bat for Talk mag

20th century's No. 1 hit: "Satisfaction" hits the spot

Statement: Spice girl's marital problems insoluble

Charlie Brown, Pogo and me

From Howdy to Charlie Brown, we hate to say goodbye

The Beatle George: While his guitar gently weeps

Jodie Foster's people in mild tiff with CBS

A Peanuts trivia Q&A

Publicist: Boyle still joined at hip

There's video in your future and future in your video

"The future is now": Hit rewind

Whitney Houston presides over confluence of talent

Jim Carrey's flack earns A "D," Cher's A "B-minus"

Geraldo: bye-bye, doghouse

Michael Douglas does nothing much, reporters go wild

Ricky Martin on Menudo: Look back in anger

How to outsmart Halloween crowds at the video store

Tom Cruise puts himself in harm's way, only not really

1800-1900: Steaming towards revolution

1700-1800: Liberty, equality and bloodshed

1600-1700: The earth moves; North America is settled

Trump mulls travel plans, from altar to White House

"Faces of Impressionism" Time machine made of canvas, paint

Major quakes aren't personal unless they happen to you

Brad Pitt gracious about character assassination

Director insists Harrison Ford is not a brainless hulk

Costner, Willis, Douglas. Branagh, Sting_ in that order

Streisand: Color her ready to plug her new album

Julia and Benjamin's rings devoid of significance, flack says

Literary mud wrestling, featuring Geri and The Spice Girls

Urgent news: Ford to replace Gibson on "GMA" eventually

She married a monster from outer space

Never mind Godzilla VS. Mothra, Here's Trump VS. Cronkite

Spurned by Pitt, Redford pays court to Damon

Celebrity coyness is bustin' out all over

"Detroit Rock City": Kiss of death

Talk is cheap? Not with Tina Brown at the helm

The Beats: Remembered, Lionized and Unread

Real estate beat, starring Woody Allen and Donald Trump

Mood Music, or how we learned to stop worrying

Sex in the cinema: From "Last Tango" to "Eyes Wide Shut"

Two easy steps to looking exactly like Ricky Martin

Close encounters of the Muppet kind

Upcoming Brad Pitt movie not garbage, insiders say

Kathie Lee's eyewear excites Islanders' ire

Back to the future, continued

"Wild Wild West": Buck Rogers in the 19th century

Sculptures by Roy Lichtenstein: Fun, Fun, Fun

An expert's verdict:" Austin Powers" is pretty neat

Click here for pointless celebrity gossip

P. Dempsey Tabler of the jungle: The many faces of Tarzan

Kirk Douglas' Ex tells all about Errol Flynn fling

New twist in TV programming: Ax profitable shows

Private jet fees spell the end for another celebrity union

Killer serials: "Flash," "Buck" and a boy named George Lucas

Top nonfiction books: A message from two old men

Celebrity Dream dreams: Monica, Donald, Barbara, Georgette

Two divas, publicist form bizarre show-biz triangle

Johnny Cash tribute: Ring of fire, ring of friends

Streisand employee really upset about rumors

Grande Dame Eyes MGM Grand Gig

Secretive celebs? Not by a long shot

NBC honcho bristles at notion that Brokaw is not a saint

Barbara Walters not keen on daily dose of Monica

"Seen, Heard, Said"

David Letterman, Donald Trump, Eddie Murphy, Elton John

Madonna, Frank Sinatra, Prince Charles, Maj, Ronald Ferguson, Fergie, Miranda Richardson, Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, Axl Rose, Stephanie Seymour

November 28, 2000

When TV shows outstay their welcome

By ROGER ANDERSON Scripps Howard News Service

It's one of the creepiest, most depressing spectacles in popular culture. We're talking about the death-in-life that great TV series succumb to once they've run out of steam but not out of air time.

The classic example, of course, is "L.A. Law," a smart and sassy drama that won America's hearts in its early seasons and then became a national case of heartburn as it was prolonged way past its expiration date, thanks to desperate plot twists and alarmingly hard-sell promotion.

When one of these babies - "L.A. Law," or "Homicide," or, these days, "NYPD Blue" and "ER" - starts to show so much wear and tear that euthanasia is the only reasonable alternative, the network honchos behave as though Western civilization were about to be snuffed out.

Perhaps the most telltale sign is when the promos start featuring scenes processed to give them a somewhat ghastly shade of blue. Invariably these are scenes where beloved characters become violent with each other. The breathless male voiceover tells you it's going to be "an episode you'll never forget" in a series that's "as good as it ever was." (That's actually more or less what they're saying these days in "ER" promos.)

It's sort of like those old aspirin commercials with the pounding hammers and electric bolts that were apparently designed to give you a headache so that you would have a reason to go buy the product.

"ER," "NYPD Blue" and "L.A. Law" have one thing in common: They all started out as successful series. "'Homicide" is a different matter: It was never successful, except critically, and the desperate ploys came in because the network had a dream of making it successful by main force.

Ironically, your dyed-in-the-wool "Homicide" fan - especially critics, who all loved it - didn't seem to notice that the show had gone drastically downhill by its second or third season.

In the first season what you got was handheld camerawork, everyone in the squad chain-smoking, deliberately inconclusive story lines and, overall, a documentary feel that was bracing and different.

Enter the network, stimulated by viewers' and critics' testimony that this ratings albatross was a great series - a notion NBC took as a mandate to try every trick in the book to make the series conform to the usual standards.

The detectives quit smoking. They were forever dealing with serial killers and child molesters, if not terrorists. Andre Braugher, who had made such an impression on fans in the early days, when he was but one element in an ensemble cast, was brought out front and center and given all the juiciest story lines. The writers even let him have a stroke (and he was the one detective who wasn't forced to quit smoking). One by one, members of the cast deemed insufficiently glamorous disappeared from the show. Every dramatic moment came accompanied by swelling music that told you exactly how you were supposed to feel about it.

Fans didn't notice. They especially didn't notice that Braugher, for all his dynamite presence and fascinating eyes, was not exactly possessed of the greatest range in the history of emoting.

These shows (even "Homicide") start out catching a lot of attention by being smart and funny. When "L.A. Law" premiered, for instance, you actually found yourself talking to your friends about it. Later, when the bloom had faded from the rose, you had the feeling that the show and its network handlers felt cruelly abandoned by old friends and in desperate need of turning back the clock to a time when their show was the talk of the workplace.

The people over at "ER" are understandably panic-stricken by signs that the show isn’t the preferred living-room companion it used to be, because so much money (something on the order of $15 million) is being paid for every single episode. How panic-stricken, you ask? So panic-stricken that they decided to have a main character killed by a knife-wielding psychotic at the end of last season. And there come those ghastly blue promos, with Carter turning into a violent drug addict or Mark apparently dying in a helicopter crash.

Never mind lawmakers - let's have term limits for successful TV shows.

Roger Anderson is arts and entertainment editor at Scripps Howard News Service.

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