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Love Hurts: Reconsidering Entertainment Weekly's 1999 Fall TV Preview

Continuing a review of television before The Golden Age Of Television, Lisa Schmeiser counts up all the careers launched without EW's noticing.

What is this?

The Fall TV Preview issue of Entertainment Weekly, with Jennifer Love Hewitt on the cover for reasons that have been lost to the mists of Web 1.0 history.

Original publication date?

September 10, 1999.

Why do you still have this?

Because weekly magazines are, by definition, ephemera and it's fun to return to them later and see if anything inside has transcended the very specific time in which it was produced. (It's a hobby that requires some long-term planning.)

What stands out on re-reading?

So many things, among them:

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The sittings editor really loved putting actresses in leather pants. Among the women rocking the Kiss tribute band look: Jennifer Love Hewitt (Time Of Your Life), Kelly Hu (Martial Law), Paula Marshall (Snoops), and Chyna, who is technically wearing a leather bikini brief.

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The rest of 1990s mall trends are out in force too: Shiri Appleby (Roswell) reps for sheer mesh overlay shirts; Alyssa Milano (a Candie's ad) is wearing those clam-digger jeans with the embroidered hemlines.

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Samantha Mathis (Harsh Realm) is in a minimalist satin number that channels "Carolyn Bessette Kennedy meets Morticia Addams"; Margaret Colin and Heather Matarazzo (Now And Again, not to be confused with Once And Again) are keeping Nine West's chunky-heel division in business; and Keri Russell (Felicity) has on one of those party tops that looks like someone put on a napkin diagonally.

It is sort of stunning to see how many of today's actors began building their television career in the late 1990s. For all that Time Of Your Life was a terrible show, it didn't consign J-Love to the cornfield; she has worked in television without a single year off for twenty-one years now. And although the one-pager on new show Once And Again does not mention any actor on the show beyond Sela Ward or Billy Campbell, that series launched Evan Rachel Wood and Shane West. The Mike O'Malley Show blurb focuses on how bad the show is, which only makes O'Malley's current status as utility-player-with-a-heart even more delightful. I sort of love that Katherine Heigl is mentioned only in passing on the "Teen aliens? What a wacky concept, CW!" two-pager for Roswell. The West Wing's début write-up is all about Martin Sheen and Rob Lowe, but let's count how many Primetime Emmys Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, and Bradley Whitford have racked up since 1999: Janney's got twelve nominations and seven wins; Schiff's got three nominations and one win; Whitford's been nominated five times, won twice.

And finally, 1999 was the debut of Freaks And Geeks and the cast photo is a murderer's row for breakout careers: Linda Cardellini, James Franco, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Seth Rogen and John Francis Daley.

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Also, Samm Levine is in the photo.

Also hilarious: 1999 is the debut year for Malcolm In The Middle, and Bryan Cranston's name is nowhere to be mentioned in the blurb.

This was the first year of Law and Order: SVU! I see you in one picture, Dean Winters!

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The issue of the magazine in which you're actually featured as a member of the cast has lasted approximately eight times longer than the duration of time you were on the show.

There was, of course, a cast change on Law & Order. Benjamin Bratt was out as Briscoe's partner, Jesse L. Martin was in. The blurb writer completely missed an opportunity to ask whether Jerry Orbach and Martin had Broadway showtune sing-offs between takes.

WHAT does not hold up on re-reading?

The concept of appointment television. There's a whole lot of ink spilled on whether certain good shows will survive in deathly time slots. There's also this weird presumption that people will plan their lives around specific show line-ups.

To be fair, the TiVo had begun shipping only five months before this issue went to press, so time-shifted television viewing as a default was not a thing yet, but there were VCRs, and it's kind of boggling that EW dropped the ball on making Ken Tucker and Jeff Jensen put together nightly "Watch this, record this"-type charts yet; those would come later. Reading this in the future as I am, the notion that I would have to pay attention to when a TV show is on feels quaint. It also raises the question -- which can never be answered -- of which shows would have done better if they were on cable or a streaming service in 2016?

Final verdict?

Revisiting 1999 is a hoot for many reasons -- so many people featured in the news features and TV articles look so young! So many are so disappeared now! (Thomas Newton, where are you?) But we're three issues into this Fall TV Preview jaunt, and it's becoming apparent that there's already a critical gap between how the medium is being covered and what readers actually want. It is striking how there is nary a URL or email address in the issue's editorial coverage. Even in 1999, this issue would have felt slightly behind-the-times; now, it's practically a poster child for how "old media" sowed the seeds of its own destruction by ignoring the new.

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Best Thing About This Issue
The Freaks and Geeks spread. They all look like babies!
Worst Thing About This Issue
So much Jennifer Love Hewitt. We are still five years out from Mean Girls, but even then, I'm fairly confident that a nation grumbled, "Quit trying to make 'Love' happen!"

For Booze Week we ask:

What cocktail would best sum up the 1999 TV season?

  • A can of Schlitz, warm, because it was shoplifted four hours ago and has been sitting in Ken Miller's coat pocket since
  • A Cosmopolitan, because you've just caught up on Sex And The City and cable's looking increasingly interesting with its shows and convenient repeat viewings
  • Scotch, because it seems like something anyone in any Law & Order franchise would knock back at any given moment
  • A Diet Coke, for all those recovering alcoholics like Leo McGarry

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