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Will they float? Colbert and some TV series floundering in the water

You don’t want to miss David Letterman tonight. Even if you’re too tired to stay up and watch his 11:35 p.m. show, you’d be well-advised to crank up the DVR and have the show on deck for whenever you can spare the time and energy.

This evening’s Letterman is the one where we’ll presumably get some sort of sense of the Late Night Royal Succession on CBS. Letterman’s guest will be Stephen Colbert, Letterman’s announced successor for whenever it is in 2015 that Letterman decides to ride off into the sunset to play “Will It Float?” and “Is This Anything?” with his preteen son.

Let me, at this point, disagree vigorously with the fed-up Letterman show staff and declare my loyalty to both of those long vanished off-the-wall Letterman show features, despite our host informing us that they’d been yanked because the show’s staff hated them.

I didn’t. Their absurdity was delightful, especially when protracted beyond the point of all reason. But then, I didn’t have much say in the matter. So one day – and a sad day it was – there just wasn’t any “Will It Float?” to be seen.

Among the unknowns at this stage of late night polo is the state of Craig Ferguson’s soul and ego after CBS’ quick announced preference for Colbert to take over Letterman’s show when he retires. Will Ferguson, in anger, find a way to remove himself from the after-midnight time slot while collecting the money his contract is said to have guaranteed? I certainly hope not. I hope he stays put. I think Ferguson is an absurdly talented guy and, beyond that, an enormously interesting one. Who else in the history of comic snark went on the air and explained he had no interest in making Britney Spears jokes – that, in his view, the young woman was in serious life trouble at the time and that he knew far too much about substance abuse to find any of it the slightest bit tempting to join TV’s more heedless and dimwit snarksters?

I’ll grant you I’ve never watched Ferguson nightly or DVR’ed him. Life is too short and too full for me to fit him in. But I’ve always liked his show when I’ve been able to see it – especially his much-praised opening monologues. He’s a very funny and talented man. I also suspect that he’s a very decent one, too, and that no one should be in a hurry to say goodbye to those.

Let me, then, declare my fealty to some things on prime time TV that I’m reasonably certain I’ll have to wish goodbye as they vanish into that ever-expanding population of pop culture fireflies that briefly light up the night and are then extinguished, only to be seen again in syndication if they’re very, very lucky:

“Law and Order: SVU” – In the large pile of Internet “On the Bubble” deathwatches, the show’s cost is said to be among the factors that may yet doom it despite immense fan affection. As I tried to point out Sunday, the unmistakable signs of writer’s room desperation have yanked the show so far off its moorings that it may take TV script doctor geniuses to repair it. We’ll see early results Wednesday night.

“The Mentalist” – You knew something had gone pretty far awry when they picked up its stars in California, where they played members of the California Bureau of Investigation, and plunked them down in the middle of Texas as members of the FBI. There was a new female stunner on the show (Emily Swallow) and it seemed to say goodbye to the old one (Amanda Righetti) whose real-life pregnancy was announced by her never being filmed below her clavicles.

You knew the writers were desperate when they started dropping Patrick Jane and his buddies down in Texas mansions to catch wealthy art thieves after previously making wonderfully clear that Jane was a devotee of well-brewed tea and ratty old couches and the downscale life of an ex-carny. That episode seemed such a far cry from the very soul of the writer’s room that it was clearly a shout to us all that they were bored stiff with the 99 percenters they usually wrote about and yearned to mix it up with a few updated “Columbo” plots where an unimpressed Jane could stick it to 1 percenters with vastly more money and power than they deserved.

All of that was well and good, but the implicit message to this fan of the show was this: “now that we absolutely can’t milk the ‘Red John’ tale for another drop, we’re really bored stiff with having an ordinary cop procedural with an extraordinary con man in the lead role.”

If they could find room for it on a less competitive night than Sunday, the combination of actors and fictional characters on the show remains immensely appealing, however boring it may be to the writers and however straining it may be to the show’s moneybags.

“Almost Human” – I’m not a fan of sci-fi series in general, but this one wasn’t bad, and it’s said to be halfway out the door, taking the great Lily Taylor in a TV series with it. I’ve seen worse.

“Rake” – The most inappropriate time slot ever doomed this show. Someone at Fox apparently said “Let’s take this rewrite of an Australian series about a horny, hooker-loving degenerate gambler and bottom-feeding courtroom showboat and put it on at 8 p.m. Good night, kids, and have sweet dreams of cokeheads and vicious old lawyers dying of heart attacks in midintercourse.” No wonder it’s moribund.

“Mixology” – I haven’t been a fan of sitcoms since the days of “I Love Lucy” (which I never thought was a tenth as cool as “T-Men in Action”). But there was a very sturdy premise to this show that didn’t mire it in the world of standard freaky sitcom families – one long night in a meat rack bar where everyone is trying to score a 4 a.m. companion and is, therefore, playing every schlock hookup trick in the barroom book. I found it both funnier than I had any right to expect and much-more open to off-the-wall plot twists than TV sitcoms usually are. One of its producers was – no kidding – Ryan Seacrest, a man, it seems to me, America needs to start seriously rethinking as soon as possible.

In fact, if you ask me, a fictionalized Seacrest – loquacious TV reality host and mogul producer – could, with the right star in the role, turn into a great TV show.


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