Television is a vast wasteland, according to Newton Minow.

This just in:
Double entendre trotted out for umpteenth time to no good purpose

Posted: 21 September 2007 | posted by David J. Loehr |

Back to You is not so much a case of reinventing the wheel as repurposing it. The whole thing seemed as though the writers took script pages at random from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Murphy Brown, NewsRadio, SportsNight, Goodnight, Beantown and even Good Morning, Miami, tossed them in a blender and prayed for a smoothie.

And these are writers I like.

What I saw: Back to You.
Where it's at: Fox, Wednesdays @ 8pm
Who made it: Steven Levitan, of Just Shoot Me and Christopher Lloyd, of Frasier
Glib deconstruction: Frasier Burgundy.
What I thought: I hate spunk.
What I'll do: Try, try again.

Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton play Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, bickering co-anchors in Pittsburgh. You don't really need to know anything beyond that. Seriously. If the show were just the two of them, it would probably be fine. As it is, the scenes between them in the pilot, especially with the two alone together, are the only times when the pilot comes close to working.

Unfortunately, they have to be surrounded by cartoons. Yes, there's Fred Willard, who does a great job with what he's got, even if he likely ad-libbed the best lines. (There's a reason he's in all of Christopher Guest's improvisational films.) But tonally, he and the character are in another dimension. At least he and Grammer play off one another well. Of course, we've already seen Grammer banter with a dopey sportcaster.

What amazes me even now is how Grammer, Heaton and Willard can take one-note jokes and find the harmony in them. As for the rest of the cast, it's more that the characters themselves are one-note. The news director is just Miles Silverberg of Murphy Brown without the competence or, apparently, anti-perspirant. That running joke made me think of "Mr. Sweaty Guy," from the late, lamented Jon Lovitz cartoon, The Critic, which pegged that concept as inept late night sketch comedy hack work fifteen years ago and counting.

And how about the reporter with the unpronouncable last name? "Wojeciehowicz. Say it like you spell it." Wait, no, that's from Barney Miller. My mistake. So maybe they didn't stick to pages from newsroom comedies. Goodness knows the biggest laugh in the pilot--Grammer's character trying to get through a commentary that's suddenly rife with dual meaning to him and him alone--is a concept lifted straight out of "The Candidate," an episode from the second season of Frasier. He did it well then, too.

Even if we forget all that recycling, the whole episode played as if the writers hadn't seen a local newscast anywhere but Los Angeles in years, if ever. A sexy Latina weather girl, not even a meteorologist? In Pittsburgh? Really?

Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed Christopher Lloyd's work for years, and much of Steven Levitan's as well. I know they can write and write well. But with this series, I have to take that on faith. When your show can be compared in any way with Good Morning, Miami--let alone unfavorably--you know you're in trouble.

That it is enjoyable at all is entirely due to the leads. Hopefully, the writing staff can find the depths in the characters that the actors seem to have found. At the very least, maybe they'll make an effort to repopulate their world with human beings.

If they do, let's just hope they're not imported from other, better shows.