SEND IN THE CLOWNS: The great irony – one of several – is that while the Hollywood writers’ strike is about the future of the industry, its side effects are sending us firmly back into the land of television past, a frightening place before cable, with channels in the low double-digits, whose reception could be affected by bad weather, and improved by a firm pounding on the side of your TV set.
The sudden, revived newsworthiness of Big Brother, thanks to its promotion to regular primetime on CBS’ schedule, is a chill wind that blows us back to a pre-9/11 world, while the success of NBC’s revival of American Gladiators sets the wayback machine further into the past – to the dawn of grunge and the post-Cold War ‘90s, and a world giddy with a tech boom and the first stirrings of something called the Inter-Net, which Al Gore apparently invented, and which your cousin Ted knew all about. (Ted later went to jail for pretending to be a 13-year-old girl named Donna online, and no one talks about him during the holidays anymore.)
Now we have news that sends us reeling down the Time Tunnel again, to the late ‘70s, when shaving your moustache meant that you’d “gone punk,” and herpes was mere collateral damage in the waning skirmishes of the sexual revolution, a piddling nuisance that would soon go the way of scurvy and smallpox. (No reason, in any case, to roll down the curtain on the glorious new world that key parties, swinger’s clubs and glory holes had brought us.)
All four of the major networks seem to want to join the circus – or get famous people to do it for them – with a Variety story on two new reality programs heading our way down the burnt-over fields of the strike landscape. At the end of last week, NBC was apparently negotiating with reality giant Endemol for a franchise of their Celebrity Circus, “a year-old Endemol format that's been a hit in Portugal and Argentina.” The title itself should be explanation enough – celebrities would train and perform circus tricks, in front of a jury of their circus peers, “meaning the panel of judges could include the bearded lady or a clown,” according to Variety.
“When people are switching around their TV channels, they're going to stick to this like flypaper," NBC reality chief Craig Plestis told Variety.
CBS and Fox are also apparently considering circus shows, while ABC is trying to get a revival of Circus Of The Stars, which ran on CBS starting in 1977. The show’s 19 different editions aired regularly until 1994, and featured movie and TV stars such as Loni Anderson, Dana Plato, Oliver Reed and Leslie Nielsen doing circus stunts in tights, spangles and crimson bell-bottoms. ABC imagines it as a big top iteration of Dancing With The Stars, but both shows will update the concept with “more modern Cirque du Soleil-style stunts.” Which makes me imagine Eva Longoria surrounded by sad Pierrot clowns in g-strings, spinning from a rope that turns into a tree, and blooming into a huge, sickly flower in a cloud of purple smoke to the strains of Kate Bush. What a time to be alive.