Eight questions about the ABC upfront.

What you're watching.
May 16 2007 4:24 PM

The A Is for Affluent

Eight questions about the ABC upfront.

Cavemen. Click image to expand.
The new buddy sitcom Cavemen

1) Does ABC always talk to its clients like they're children? If so, is that the secret of its success?

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

Near the beginning of the 4 p.m. presentation, having already established that Nielsen will shortly be providing commercial ratings—that is, quantifying the viewership of the actual ads—one ABC exec felt compelled to remind his clients that "commercial ratings are going to determine who you buy and how much you buy from them." Elsewhere, Steve McPherson, ABC's president of entertainment, formulated an idea along the following lines: Because we've been focusing on an affluent audience, we are focusing on an affluent audience. I will grant that it's wholly possible that McPherson just wanted to say affluent one more time.

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2) Is Caveman implicitly anti-creationist?

The most notable sitcom on tap is Caveman, adapted from the Geico Insurance commercials. Three caveman guys—heroic Joel, wise-assed Nick, and mellow Jamie—assimilate into American culture somewhere, according to the accents, south of Charlottesville and east of El Paso. Will they be accepted equals? Will they get into the country club? Would you want your daughter to marry one?

3) Jimmy Kimmel has a certain mastery of smugness. Is that why he loves to mock it elsewhere?

Jimmy Kimmel rose to fame on The Man Show, a late-night program devoted, if memory serves, to busty women jumping on trampolines. He is now ABC's main man in late night and yesterday, doing a brief set, sounded like the conscience of the network, sneering at its failure to launch a decent sitcom, calling its upcoming broadcast of bingo—yes, B-14 and all that—perfect for "viewers who were put off by the complexity of Deal or No Deal." Amidst all of the week's assured sales pitches, it was refreshing to hear him update ancient showbiz wisdom at maximum volume. "We're making it all up!" he cried. "Who the hell knows what works and what doesn't?"

4) Fat March? Really?

If I'm reading this press release correctly, the reality show that ABC is most excited about is titled Oprah's Big Give™ (The Apprentice meets philanthropy). Lesser offerings include The Next Best Thing (American Idol meets Rich Little) and Just for Laughs (Candid Camera meets a 2-liter Mountain Dew). Further, two weight-loss shows are lined up—Shaq's Big Challenge (The Biggest Loser meets Kazaam) and Fat March (obesity meets exercise). The press audience, upon learning the title of the latter show, went bananas. As one colleague said, "No. No! NO! It's called that?!" McPherson came back on stage: "I just want to thank Oprah publicly. … " Hey, who wouldn't?

5) The New Escapism. Discuss.

Yesterday, swooning as I was over the launch of Bionic Woman 2.0, I neglected to mention NBC's Chuck, a potentially intriguing action show about a cute schlub who gets gigs of sensitive government information downloaded to his brain. Chuck is the beneficiary of a trend that, this past pilot season, had something for everyone from Mary Shelley to Philip K. Dick—zombies, occult figures, hellboys, time-travelers, comic-book superfreaks … NBC's slant is sci-fi fantasy; CBS, the network most reliant on procedural crime shows, will offer a vampire detective; Fox is expected to debut a Terminator spinoff, which sounds noisy. ABC's take on the genre is, to be kind about it, magical realist:

Pushing Daisies: A guy can touch dead things and bring them back to life; however, if he touches them twice, they die irretrievably. This complicates his romantic life.

Eli Stone: A guy starts hearing songs in his head—George Michael's "Faith," for instance—and the din reaches a point that, disconnected from reality, he finds himself believing he's at a George Michael concert when in fact he's in his office at a corporate law firm in San Francisco. Then, doing some kind of pro bono work against his better interests, he meets a hot chick with an autistic son. During a home visit, Eli sees that the kid has spelled "GEORGE MICHAEL" with his building blocks. But maybe Eli just has a brain tumor. This is for real.