After Sunset: Reconsidering Entertainment Weekly's Fall 2006 Preview

Our tour of ten years' worth of Entertainment Weekly takes us to the universe where American can't stop talking about Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip.

Our Players

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

The Talk

Our final spin through the Entertainment Weekly back catalog brings us Patrick Dempsey as our cover boy. And apparently the condition of his appearance was, "I get to drive around in a fast car, right? Because I don't get out of bed for a car that takes more than six seconds to go zero to 60."

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All told, Grey's Anatomy consumes eight pages of this issue, which is seven more pages than I ever wanted to read about this show. At least the photos of Patrick Dempsey and his car are a handy visual cue that I can skip ahead without guilt.

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What better way to stumble upon the triumphant birth of The CW as a network.

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And look how creepy the ad trumpeting the CW's arrival is. Not only was it personalized for me, every actor in it appears to have been caught at a moment best saved for your partners or your Snapchats.

Come on, you're not telling me that unfeeling robotic font doesn't make you want to tune in for America's Next Top Model?

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NBC bought a lot of ad space, too. It's just a shame they used it to promote Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. Money well spent, especially in an issue where 30 Rock is reduced to an "Also of interest..." footnote.

To be fair, I was not terribly excited about 30 Rock at the time, but I was also not really a fan of Tina Fey. Didn't care for her on Weekend Update; especially didn't like direction SNL took when she was head writer. "30 Rock?" I may have said at the time. "Who needs it?"

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Congratulations, Phil: you are the 2006 Entertainment Weekly issue in human form.

All I need to do now is lend Patrick Dempsey my car keys.

Yeah, he seems like a guy who's mad into Subaru Outbacks. I have to admit, though, I was not psyched about Studio 60, but there were two reasons for that. First, I think Aaron Sorkin's a misogynist who confuses the ability to recall trivia with actual intellectual prowess. Second, the show was stocked with people who made their bones on other shows, and if history -- as written by nine previous years of EW fall TV previews -- tells us anything, it's that shows built around actors who are post-breakout generally do not become beloved cultural institutions.

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My favorite part of the Studio 60 write-up is the on-the-set report where Sarah Paulson is saddled with spitting out the following: "It's a town of fewer than 4000 people. More than half the adult population works in the Hanover bakery plant. And the average income is $18,000 a year -- or roughly the same thing I'll be paid to perform this show tonight. Why are we making fun of them?"

Not to cast aspersions against what actresses have top-of-mind, but how many working professionals in television also double as the Wikipedia of little-known rural America facts?

Oh, but it continues, Lisa. Back to the transcript: "Her speech continues, touching on politics, intolerance and governmental hypocrisy. Sorkin, who's sitting by a monitor, watching Paulson's close-up, nods and smiles." I want to start a GoFundMe to create an obelisk on which to carve this entire passage.

Why?

Because I believe that's a fitting monument to Aaron Sorkin's staggering self-regard. Sorkin nods and smiles at the power of his own dialogue. Oh, and speaking of auteurs, Chuck Lorre vows that, this season on Two And A Half Men, he's going to try to make the show funny every week.

Dream big, little grasshopper. But let's not dwell on these speed bumps on the cultural landscape when there is Friday Night Lights to discuss. It's a show I've never seen. All I know is that a significant percentage of my friends worship Tami Taylor as a personal guru.

In all fairness, if we're going to ding EW for their strange 7th Heaven fixation -- every year seems to feature a lengthier write-up on a show that I'm not sure ever actually existed -- and the magazine's uncritical worship of Aaron Sorkin, we should acknowledge when they got it right, and they called it on Friday Night Lights.

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Plus I love the name "Taylor Kitsch" so much. Hey! Speaking of my ability to be distracted by shiny things, how much do I love the layouts this year? I love that they got rid of the little floating heads for each show; I love that they moved the airdates and times to the top of the blurb; I love the little "Weeknight Battle" sidebar where they use the circle to present all the shows competing for a specific time slot. The magazine looks good this year.

In a chilling indictment of my crumbling mental state, this is the first year where I have no immediate memory of many of these shows, especially the cancelled ones.

This is probably the first year where TiVo officially overtook serendipitous programming. I mean, we had what, twenty season passes to shows by this point? And let's not forget how many of those were on cable -- The Wire was in Season 4, also known as the most heartbreaking season ever; Deadwood was on. We had started watching It's Always Sunny, plus the The Colbert Report was on four nights a week. The point is, we had so many TV shows on the DVR, and I'm not even including all the movies we recorded. We never, ever had incentive to just sit on the couch and watch random stuff to see what stuck.

Huh.

And another factor: the rise of recap culture. By this point, it was easier to watch stuff based on what pop culture and TV writers were watching and writing about.

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There was something called Smith that starred Ray Liotta. I think Ray Liotta would be hard-pressed to tell you what this show was about. There were programs called Standoff and Justice. These aren't show titles! These are random nouns. ABC brought something back called What About Brian?

I honestly thought that was about the dog on Family Guy.

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You could have told me it was and I would have believed you. Instead it was something that J.J. Abrams was involved in that he probably leaves off the CV.

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Continuing in my appearance-based obsessions, this is the first year that the art direction at EW has not had the women looking like they've just been ravaged. (With one exceptions: for, like, three years, whomever was taking Lauren Graham's picture always set it up so she looked like a MILF on the prowl.) Seriously -- look at that Bones photo. I love how gothic it is and how dressed Emily Deschanel is.

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My second GoFundMe campaign -- after we erect the Aaron Sorkin obelisk -- will be for the time machine to go back to the EW editorial offices, 2004-2008, to point and laugh while shrieking, "You think there will be a satisfying conclusion to Lost! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"

I think the reason this marriage works is our mutual appreciation of grand, pointless, spiteful gestures. And I think the discussion we could have about how Lost could have worked if it were always structured as a finite number of episodes and much shorter seasons is one we can rehash privately.

I want to lament some fallen shows too. Knights Of Prosperity, for example. But the show I miss most of all is Shark.

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Not about an actual shark.

If you recall, this was James Woods as a highly successful, amoral attorney who begins to work for the prosecution. It was not what you could call "good," with great "acting" or "writing" or "style," but boy, was it entertaining. It was the sort of show you could have on in the background while you did other things and you didn't worry you were missing some crucial show mythology.

This is the first show I can remember Kevin Alejandro being on, and his career is one of my favorites because he dies in so many TV shows! I love that casting directors apparently look at him and go, "You -- you make a good-looking corpse."

I realize the appeal of most CBS procedurals is that you can pop in and out of them without using your brain, but to my eye, they lack the flair that Shark brought to the proceedings.

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Speaking of flair -- or more appropriately, the distinct lack of any -- we can't ignore this year's round of unflattering ER photos. It takes a lot of work to make Maura Tierney and Goran Visnjic look like they're having a bad hair day, and yet it all came together here. Also, this show had been on for twelve years by this point. Let that sink in.

No. Because I want to talk about two other shows -- Six Degrees and The Nine. This was the year of shows that were trying to ride the wave of "All will be revealed eventually" and viewers tapped out early.

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Well, why would you invest the time? Networks don't really care about keeping faith with small, loyal audiences. So...why bother? Movies are better for mysteries.

At least a movie's only a two-hour commitment, and you know the screenwriter and director aren't lurking behind the popcorn stand writing the ending based on studio feedback about the middle.

It's not a good sign for TV when we're all, "Sigh. Movies." And in closing, I just want to point out that this issue has a masthead for the special TV section and it has a whopping twenty-six people responsible for writing and editing this thing. Gillian Flynn -- she of Gone Girl fame -- was responsible for new show entries. And I will forever wonder which of the remaining twenty-five people are her models for the editorially useless Nick and Amy.

10
Issue Read
0
Issues Remaining
MVP
James Woods, who is selling the hell out of Shark
LVP
A genuinely terrible photo to go with a genuinely terrible Brad Garret show
Overall Series MVP
Law & Order, which kept quietly chugging along, staying on brand, no matter how many spin-offs got launched and/or killed in this time.
Overall Series LVP
The ridiculous boudoir photography masquerading as promotional shots. It really dates the issues and went on far, far too long.

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