Title Waves 

NBC’s Cursed and Fox’s Normal, Ohio: What was in a name?

All I ask of a TV show is that it actually has something, anything, to do with its title. Most of the action on ER is set in an emergency room. The Practice is about a law practice. It takes an hour to watch 60 minutes. Ally McBeal gives ample (but not too much) screen time to one Ms. Ally McBeal. The supernatural sisters of Charmed are indeed charmed. WWF Smackdown features many a smackdown administered by members of the World Wrestling Federation.

Despite losing nearly 40 percent of its lead-in audience from Friends every week, NBC has decided to renew Cursed (Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.), the only new show of the 2000-’01 season to be granted a timeslot in the hallowed “Must-See” Thursday lineup. Why? Because even though it’s the lowest-rated post-Friends sitcom ever (!), Cursed still qualifies as NBC’s biggest ratings winner this season simply by virtue of location, location, location.

And it’s not even about a guy who’s “cursed”! Not anymore, anyway.

Originally, ex-Wings star Steven Weber played a good-looking Chicagoan with a happenin’ career (in advertising, the most sitcom-friendly job) and an impossibly large apartment. He goes out on a blind date, pisses off said date, and winds up having the scorned woman cast a bad-luck voodoo curse on him. Hilarity ensues, etc.

Amazingly, the network initially thought the most pressing problem with this sitcom’s concept was the name. Over the course of the show’s pre-existence, it’s been titled The Steven Weber Project, Cursed, and then The Steven Weber Show on the preview tape I received from NBC prior to the network’s fall season launch in October. A Michael Richards Show tape has yet to arrive, however. Wonder why?

The original Steven Weber pilot episode played up the “cursed” angle to the hilt, not to mention an evil clown subplot (always money in the bank), and it was actually kinda funny—not as funny as the Titans tape that came in the same FedEx package, but few sitcoms could be.

By the time the show debuted in late October, it was re-re-titled Cursed, but the “curse” was reduced to a minor plot point and most of the pilot scenes had been replaced with new ones that seemed like outtakes from The Single Guy or some other NBC Thursday generi-com. The voodoo woman and the “curse” were never again mentioned in subsequent episodes of the show now called Cursed. Huh?

I could have accepted that NBC had seen fit to transform a “weirdo” concept into yet another Thursday-night Friends knockoff by firing the show’s creators and bringing in writers from—that’s right—Friends to eradicate any free thinking, but now they’ve gone and changed … the … name … again! As of last week, it’s been re-re-re-titled The Weber Show, and the whole pissed-witch incident is as distant a memory as the pizza place on ABC’s Two Guys & a Girl, which is now technically three guys and three girls, the same makeup as Friends. When will it stop?!

And while we’re within spitting distance of the topic, what was the deal with Fox’s Normal, Ohio? I say was, because it was canceled as I typed this sentence.

Through its evolution from The Untitled John Goodman Project to Don’t Ask to Butch to Normal, the show was supposed to be about a big fat gay guy who looks an awful lot like Roseanne’s old husband. Not staying true to your show’s title is one thing, but this mess didn’t even stick to the script. Aside from the occasional “Tinkerbell” joke from dad-figure Orson Bean, the topic of homosexuality came up on Normal, Ohio about as often as it does in an Entertainment Tonight spot on Ricky Martin—as in, never.

Just as Fox’s That ’70s Show does in no significant way actually involve the ’70s, Normal, Ohio only used the “gay thing” as window dressing. Unlike That ’70s Show, unfortunately, Normal wasn’t all that funny. Goodman seemed to be loitering through the sitcom with even less enthusiasm than he mustered for Blues Brothers 2000. Impossible? Ha!

Meanwhile, ex-Ellen sidekick Joely Fisher, starring as his town-slut sister, came off back-to-back theater gigs (Broadway’s Grease and the touring Cabaret) and a much better TV show (The WB’s Grosse Pointe) to play a magnificent pair of breasts hoisted skyward by pneumatic underwire devices designed jointly by Victoria’s Secret, the Erin Brockovich pit crew and NASA. Whenever Fisher bounced on-screen wearing something low-cut and half-open, like every 10 seconds, it was a total cleavage eclipse. Who could pay attention to the lousy show with those there?

Holy funbags, Goodman, those producers were almost geniuses! Eee-vil geniuses!

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