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A Closet Case: Reconsidering Entertainment Weekly's 1997 Fall TV Preview

We begin a look back at a decade's worth of Entertainment Weekly issues previewing each year's upcoming fall season with a stop in 1997, the year someone thought you really cared about Veronica's Closet.

Our Players

Hello, I'm Previously.TV Contributor Philip Michaels.
Hello, I'm Previously.TV Contributor Lisa Schmeiser.

The Talk

TV does not handle its past very well. Oh, it has its Paley Center Honors, its award show montages, the occasional rerun on that basic cable channel that can’t afford to Mad Men the hell out of its lineup. But once a show is off the air for a while, it usually slips right off our collective brainpans, with all but the most obsessive fans struggling to remember any detail about what they might have watched. And that goes double for all the empty, calorie-free words that get written about television. I mean, who can remember what some ink-stained wretch wrote about some long-forgotten TV show?

Clearly, our lives have been well spent.

Oh, but they have. Because we remember, thanks to the treasure trove of Entertainment Weekly Fall TV preview issues we have assiduously archived for the past two decades. At any given point, we can saunter over our humidity-free storage chamber, carefully remove an EW preview issue from its protective envelope, and see exactly what America's taste makers got so horribly wrong. What doomed show made the cover that year? What future hit did EW consign to a few inches of agate type? What Law & Order cast member was shown the door? What the hell was a UPN?

At last our penchant for hoarding pays off.

And it pays off for you, gentle reader, because you're along for the ride, no matter how furiously your click that Back button. We're about to embark on a ten-issue odyssey through the back catalog of Fall TV preview issues, because it is the dead of August and we have nothing more pressing going on. Today's stop: 1997, a year when monstrous thunder lizards roamed the earth and Entertainment Weekly thought you really were going to embrace Veronica's Closet.

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I can't shake the feeling that this cover was shot during one of the more pronounced phases of Kirstie Alley's waxing and waning periods. The Marge Simpson hair, the sea of feathers, and the ur-MySpace angle all suggest that the art director was trying to fool the eye. Several eyes. All the eyes.

All I know is, it looks like she's emerging from a Muppet's birth canal. It's one of Jim Henson's darker periods. "So I only do family programming, huh? Well HERE'S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SWEETUMS MAKES A BABY." But one might suppose that the bigger miscue was devoting pages -- multiple pages -- to Danny Aiello's soon-to-be-forgotten Dellaventura.

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Wikipedia informs me that this show was on for four months. I literally have no recollection of it, and I lived through the late 1990s.

All I know is that Danny Aiello played the titular Dellaventura, who was some sort of...crime fighter? Anyhow, EW chronicled Mr. Aiello's lofty vision for this show: "If Dellaventura was half as good as Kojak, I could do what I dream about for this show -- make it so good my friends would want to appear on it."

To be fair, Kojak is a high bar for anyone to clear. Let's review the non-Dellaventura coverage. I want to see what's going on with television in fall 1997.

You had the return of The Wonderful World Of Disney, you had Jenny McCarthy's ill-fated sitcom...

I presume it was felled by a communicable disease that could have easily been prevented with vaccinations.

Oh, look, Ally McBeal débuted that year! And the biggest star was, and I quote, "Melrose Place's Courtney Thorne-Smith." EW predicted this show would not stand up well against NBC's female-comedy lineup.

Yes, because we remember both Caroline In The City and The Naked Truth as the fixed-camera Lilith Faire of comedy.

Lisa. Name me a joke either show did.

...

Any joke.

...I cannot.

Moving on to Tuesday, the night in which EW suggested shows would wither in Dellaventura's considerable shadow, we have Over The Top with Tim Curry and a young Steve Carell who was so unknown the writeup couldn't be bothered to mention him.

I hear he got rave reviews!

Someone was raving. As for returning shows, this is the year Mad About You succumbs to the curse of the baby.

Strangely, the blurb does not mention how the introduction of a baby is the surefire sign that a show is creatively and artistically dead. Funny, that. And speaking of creatively and artistically dead...it's Dharma And Greg! Remember when Jenna Elfman was a thing that people didn't think was weird and off-putting?

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Starring opposite of Thomas Gibson papers over a lot of flaws.

This whole show was so dumb.

You know what bothered me the most about Dharma And Greg? Alan Rachins's ponytail. "Hey, we need to convey that the fussy lawyer from L.A. Law is now a hippie." "Eh. Slap a ponytail on him."

Speaking of shows that should have been taken the cornfield, I see Murphy Brown was still kicking in 1997. I honestly thought that show had been staked through the heart when Dan Quayle was ushered out of the Naval Observatory.

What disturbs me -- on several levels -- is that I scribbled notes on my Entertainment Weekly fall issues, and I made some sort of indecipherable symbol next to the Murphy Brown entry.

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Is it a star? A pentagram? Some sort of expression about humanity's inexorable slide into ennui and irrelevance? Disturbingly, the 1997 version of me also thought a passage in the write-up for The Nanny promising a guest appearance by Bryant Gumbel merited an underline.

This is a picture into the madness of young Phil. Well, we're on, what, Thursday now? So what are those Friends up to?

Ross and Rachel are considering getting back together. We only have seven more years to figure this out.

Why? Did someone break a mirror?

Friday night's programming really tests the loyalties of shut-ins with a pair of dueling alien shows. In this corner, John Corbett appearing in The Visitor, which was a sort of Chris In The Morning is Starman program. In the opposing corner, Bronson Pichot as Meego, an alien turned earth nanny.

That's one way to make child care affordable. I'm more with Ice T's television debut in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it Players. He's a long way from semen and fecal matter in the victim's ear canal.

Speaking of Law & Order: the thing they celebrate in the single paragraph dedicated to this show? No new cast members this year! "We're not trying to break new ground," Dick Wolf said, a sentiment that could be repeated for the next ten years.

And while we're talking about decades, that's one year down and nine to go, as I contemplate a world where networks aired original programming on Saturday nights -- Boston Legal was scheduled then! -- and print magazines actually featured ads.

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Best Thing About This Issue
The NBC multi-page ad pictured above. It pulls off a number of impressive feats, starting with making giantess Téa Leoni the same size as Lea Thompson. Also, Rob Schneider and Jenny McCarthy are tied together, presumably giving them plenty of time to share their peer-reviewed work on vaccines.
Worst Thing About This Issue
The Veronica's Closet cover. The multipage spreads on Dellaventura and Gregory Hines's quickly canceled sitcom. Clearly, EW had its finger on the flat-lining pulse of the TV viewing public.

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