When and why did Britain become the go-to destination for American television programming ideas? Just like England’s fickle music charts, it’s a here-today-gone-later-today proposition with Yankee versions of hit Brit shows—is anyone really that excited about Survivor II at this point? By the time CBS’ “anticipated” sequel to 2000’s biggest non-event premieres in January, there’s a good chance it will meet with the same collective shrug that coattail import Big Brother received, or, worst-case scenario, the new Spice Girls album. Yes, there’s a new Spice Girls album—it’s called Reduced Price: $1.95, or at least that’s what the stickers on the CD covers say.
Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, ABC’s big Brit import, has been sliding in the ratings weekly, even after chief competition Survivor ended months ago. At the same time, the network’s BBC rip-off Whose Line is It Anyway? has been renewed through infinity. The only explanation for this is that ABC wants to keep host Drew Carey happy, because the still-high-rated Drew Carey Show star will likely outlive Regis Philbin, who’s expected to finally drop dead during February sweeps while hosting ABC’s last-ditch Celebrity Topless Who Wants To Be a Millionaire with Cindy Margolis and Li’l Kim.
Undeterred, ABC has launched yet another show “inspired by the British series of the same name,” Dot Comedy (Fridays, 7:30 p.m.). As you may have gathered from the clever title, it’s about the Internet and all the wacky stuff available out there on Al Gore’s Infobahn. But, like forwarded e-mail jokes with hundreds of those “>” symbols and goofy MPEG movies that clog up your company’s mail server until the Computer Guy is forced to come into the office and “interface” with humans by screeching funny words like “bandwidth” and “FTP,” the actual “comedy” of Dot Comedy is decidedly low-res.
“In the competitive development arena, we are always on the lookout for new programming ideas, and the World Wide Web is a rich, underutilized source of creativity,” said ABC in a press release. “Dot Comedy is an innovative, daring show that taps into the immediate, electric nature of the Internet. We couldn’t be more thrilled.” Translation: “We download free content, get some cut-rate cable personalities to intro it and make ‘edgy’ comments, then hold a studio audience leftover from Funniest Home Videos at gunpoint and force them to laugh hysterically—bang! We’ve produced a show that’s cheaper than a box of new Spice Girls albums!”
At least Carsey-Werner and Oxygen (the production company and cable network jointly producing Dot Comedy) could have tried hiring the unemployment-bound Posh, Baby, Scary and, er, Spunky?, to host the show. Instead, we get identically creepy twins Jason and Randy Sklar (MTV’s Apartment 2F; Comedy Central’s BattleBots), whose only discernible talents are laughing at each other’s alleged jokes and growing deep-shag sideburns that would make even Tom Jones feel like less of a man.
Not even ancillary hosts Annabelle Gurwitch (TBS’ Dinner & a Movie) and Katie Puckrick (Oxygen’s Pajama Party), two of the sharpest and funniest women of the cable domain, can pull this download out of the trash. But they do have their moments: In last week’s debut episode, Gurwitch’s feigned infatuation with a self-described “slim and handsome racecar driver” named Curry was nearly as funny as the “terracotta blonde’s” website itself (www.RubberBurner.com—you’ve got to see this for yourself). And Puckrick’s chat with the webmaster of a “virtual museum” of airsickness bags, well, how can you go wrong with that? As she’s proven on 635 reruns of Pajama Party, the sassy-banged one can make even the lamest interviewees look good—but don’t ever press your luck and invite the Sklars on, Puckster.
If Dot Comedy had more offbeat features like these, less Dilbert-style time-killing fodder like virtual paper airplanes over cubicles games (?!), pixilated video rejects from Caught on Tape!, and a whole lot less of the Dimmer Twins, it might actually approximate the “cyber-culture celebration” it claims to be. As it is, it’s just a lot of annoying “check out this URL” banter flying by with little stickiness—that’s web lingo for how attractive your site is to repeat surfers. Because the addresses for the websites on Dot Comedy are only spoken and never displayed onscreen—you’ll have to go to ABC.com for the links—the producers obviously understand the importance of “hits.”
What I don’t understand is why the hosts of couch/desk/coffee-table shows like Dot Comedy always have to have coffee mugs from which they sip constantly. Why do they do this? Does sucking this strenuously for 20 minutes dangerously dehydrate you? What’s in those cups? I swear to God, if one of you Netheads e-mails me and says “Java” …