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Viewers deserve a 'Break' from bad ideas

I'm trying my best to understand the Fox TV network -- honest I am. But I'm having a lot of trouble.

You try it: "Wonderfalls," a bright and truly delightful TV show full of creative whimsy (and one that just happened to be set in Niagara Falls) lasted just about as long as a pizza in our house when my friends and I were hungry teenagers.

But "Prison Break," a TV show that should have been just a two-hour movie? It's still with us, weekly no less. (They made 22 of them!) If our luck is really bad, it will be going on for your grandchildren.

How on earth did anyone think this unwatchable show could be a series? (It's about a doofus who breaks into prison to free his wrongfully convicted brother.) Clearly, it's a one-shot event, like losing your virginity, or dying, or having your first child. You don't try to make a whole series out of it, even if David Janssen kept going for years as Richard Kimble, "The Fugitive." You especially don't do that if your series is as bad as "Prison Break."

And even more so if you're the kind of network that was so itchy to pull the trigger on a puppy of a program as lovable as "Wonderfalls."

And don't tell me here that's it's all a matter of numbers either -- that "Wonderfalls" just couldn't scare up enough people for a poker game, let alone a TV series. "House" wasn't exactly a ball of fire for Fox in its first few critically praised weeks until "American Idol" dutifully dumped viewers by the millions on its doorstep. All "Wonderfalls" needed, maybe, was a smash lead-in and/or a promotional campaign that spent more than the cost of a Big Mac.

But no, its whimsy and intelligence made it just the sort of thing a certain breed of TV executive can't wait to consign to the DVD ghetto (which is where you'll find the unaired "Wonderfalls").

"Prison Break," on the other hand -- which is as bad as anything I've seen all year -- is deemed just a dandy idea by the geniuses at Fox.

If that's a good idea for a TV series, I'm Donald Rumsfeld.

It's not as if I'm overly dismissive of steroid television after all. TNT's "Wanted," for instance, is so hopped up on synthetic testosterone that its real manhood is no doubt shrivelling to pea size even as we speak.

I'll watch tonight's series finale anyway. It's been fun while it lasted these summer weeks -- as was TNT's other summer hit "The Closer."

I'm even looking forward to Monday's return of NBC's "Las Vegas," wherein we discover the semiotics of Lara Flynn Boyle's anorexia as played off against the significantly fleshier beauties the show has always been cherished for. Ms. Boyle, in case you don't know, has been engaged to play the show's somewhat peevish new boss lady. (Thin, then, is not exactly in, in the "Las Vegas" way of things. That is, it's fine only when it's significantly manifest in a woman who's all about power and not eating pizza and truffles in the moonlight.)

But "Prison Break" is even less appealing to me than the most ridiculous upcoming series idea I've read and heard about in TV hype season: Dennis Hopper as a spiffy uniformed upper-echelon Pentagon functionary in NBC's "E-Ring."

Here, I submit, is one of the worst TV casting ideas since Tiny Tim got married on "The Tonight Show" (or Dennis Miller was adopted on "Monday Night Football"). The glory of Dennis Hopper as an actor is that he has only two real roles -- outcast, druggy and psychotic (see "Apocalypse, Now," "Easy Rider," "Speed," "Blue Velvet") or slightly pathetic wimp ("Hoosiers," "Giant"). Either way, you don't want him in the Pentagon making decisions about your homeland security and mine.

Then again, you wouldn't exactly want the decision-makers we've had for a while either, so maybe Dennis Hopper as a uniformed Pentagon biggie really is realism.

In which case, give me fantasy any day.

The late, gallingly short-lived, and early-orphaned "Wonderfalls," for instance.


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