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Why So Serious? Reconsidering Entertainment Weekly's 2001 Fall TV Preview

Thumbing through a September 2001 magazine can be a pretty glum affair. But at least Entertainment Weekly's 2001 Fall TV Preview featured enough honest-to-goodness quality shows to turn our frown into...less of a frown.

Let's address the elephant in the room right away: anything with a September 2001 dateline stamped on its cover is going to be something of a bummer, especially if that dateline is a scant four days prior to September 11. "Oh, did you feel like reading about what JAG is up to, escapist American?" the magazine seems to say. "Well, don't you lack gravitas."

It does not help that you flip open the 2001 Fall TV Preview issue of Entertainment Weekly to find this ABC ad starring you in the face, like that photo of the Overlook Hotel at the end of The Shining.

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Boy, everyone looks just happy to be alive, don't they? Clearly, this photo was taken right as all the talent began a third rousing chorus of "There's No Business Like Show Business." Let's check in with Ryan Stiles, an actual funny person, who apparently has been told someone very dear to him is deathly ill.

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Well, surely Dharma and/or Greg will lighten the mood, since those are just two mismatched kooky kids who are deeply in lo--

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Oh, sweet Jesus.

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The hits just keep on coming as you flip the page, and get a reminder that, somewhere in the corridors of power at ABC, someone thought it would be a swell idea to put Dennis Miller -- a decade away from landing the plum gig of Bill O'Reilly's pool boy -- in the booth of Monday Night Football Games. "I'm telling you, Foutsy, this Kurt Warner cat attempts more passes than Bill Clinton at a Tailhook convention." Dear Lord, the concussions can't come fast enough to ease our misery.

But that's enough negativity. The 2001 Fall Preview highlights a number of good shows -- shows that you'll actually remember fondly and not as some half-remembered waking nightmare. Oh, sure, there are some clunkers in there. Entertainment Weekly devotes a full page to The Education Of Max Bickford, which is more enthusiasm than CBS ever showed for it, and there are similarly misguided attempts to gin up enthusiasm for the likes of Citizen Baines, The Agency, and Bob Patterson, which are three shows that actually existed once and not just things I made up to fill space.

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But EW put Buffy The Vampire Slayer on the cover. And while that show may have not have been my bag, I can certainly appreciate the craft that went into it. (Too many people these days conflate "This show or movie or creative endeavor doesn't really appeal to my interests" with "This show or movie or creative endeavor objectively stinks," and that's something we should stop doing. Not everything has to be created with you or me in mind. Other people are allowed to like things, too.) I always liked how Joss Whedon made the seasons of that show self-contained stories, which was a rarity for American television at the time. And EW spent multiple pages talking up Buffy. That's good!

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By this point, the magazine was also slapping awards on its fall preview capsules, and it decided -- correctly -- that Alias was the best new drama. Say what you will about the latter seasons of that show, but early-in-its-run Alias was a lot of fun. (Pay no attention to 2001 Phil and his penchant for scribbling notes on magazines, as he scrawled "Scarecrow & Mrs. King" under Jennifer Garner's picture for reasons that are a mystery to me fifteen years later. Maybe I was thinking of Bruce Boxleitner at the time.) Plus, Alias gave J.J. Abrams a platform to master his craft so that he could fix those Star Trek and Star Wars movies you nerds are always gassing on about, so maybe you owe Alias more of a debt of gratitude than you can possibly imagine.

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And The Bernie Mac Show! Oh man, that show was funny -- the Larry Wilmore-helmed years were better, in my opinion, but that was still a really good sitcom that influenced more TV shows than you might realize. And Bernie Mac is no longer with us, so now I'm bummed out again.

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My favorite show that year? The Tick. Naturally, it repelled audiences, because the Amercian viewing public is made up of simpletons and dopes. (Not you people reading this, of course. You're lovely.) Nothing has ever done a better job of sending up the conventions of superhero stories -- think the 1970s SuperFriends cartoons, only played with a mostly straight face. Do yourself a favor and track down the "Arthur, Interrupted" episode where Dave Foley guest stars as a deprogrammer and, after you're done laughing for the full half-hour, join me in raging against the cruelty of the television business. (I suppose we should mention that there's a new version of The Tick, and you can watch the pilot on Amazon Prime right now. They say that it's a darker, edgier version of The Tick. That seems...ill-advised.)

Besides the fine programming, the other noteworthy attribute of this 2001 issue of Entertainment Weekly is the odd theme running through many of the photos peppered throughout the issue. "Sure, TV is all right, I guess," someone on the art direction team seems to have said. "But the real money is in boudoir photography." How else to explain the horrible things Leah Remini is being asked to do in this King Of Queens photo spread?

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I have never worked as a medical examiner, but I'm fairly certain this is not regulation garb for the coroner industry, Crossing Jordan's Jill Hennessy.

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Oh, no, Sarah Michelle Gellar, they got to you, too.

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But don't worry, ladies and 10% of men. Tom Welling is here to provide a little equal time. He's faster than a speeding bullet, but buttoning up his shirt is somehow beyond his Kryptonian skill set.

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You can keep that jacket on, Jason Alexander. Thanks.

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Best Thing About This Issue
Though the magazine dutifully does it best to help each new show put its best foot forward, not even Entertainment Weekly can maintain the polite fiction that a sitcom built around Emeril Lagasse -- the doomed-from-the-start Emeril -- has any chance at success.
Worst Thing About This Issue
Oh boy, another Law & Order spinoff! (It's Criminal Intent this time.) That's three shows taking up prime time slots, Dick Wolf, which is pretty piggy of you, when you think about it. At least, there's still only one CSI.

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