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Jeff Simon: The 'Wisdom' of a Zombie TV show

"Wisdom of the Crowd" is a goner, for those who didn't know. It will fulfill the rest of its 13 episodes on Sundays this month and then vanish.

I want to say a few words in defense of the show, even though it's almost impossible -- just for fairness' sake.

The reason for that is that at this moment, it's generally presumed to be close to indefensible. Nobody, it seems, likes the show.

Except for the public which watches it on a Sunday in numbers that might very well have kept it on CBS' schedule if star Jeremy Piven hadn't found himself on the wrong end of groping allegations. Two of them supposedly happened during the filming of HBO's "Entourage," on which Piven previously played crass Hollywood agent Ari Gold.

I never watched "Entourage." I know viewers -- all male -- who swore by its version of cable-TV ribaldry but I wasn't one of them. The dissolution of "Californication" was more my speed. Whenever I tried to watch "Entourage," I found it a little too adolescent for my taste.

"Wisdom of the Crowd" is different. It's one of CBS' reliable procedurals with the slight difference that its premise was jauntily preposterous. Piven plays a fellow who invents a crime-fighting program called "Sophe" that involved "the wisdom of the crowd" i.e. everyone who is able to click on the App.

Let's say the cops are looking for a mysterious miscreant whose photograph has finally been located in his girlfriend's apartment. Piven and his bunch of software wizards might put the picture on Sophe and 10 minutes later, the proprietor of a bodega might see the picture and message the Sophe folks that the suspect was just in his store buying a Red Bull and a prune danish.

The Sophe-minders tell the cops and voila, sirens go off, the guy is picked up and thrown into interrogation.

The reason for Sophe is that Piven's character is a gazillionaire and Sophe co-creator whose daughter was murdered and he doesn't believe the cops caught the right guy. So he's using Sophe to find the real killer.

The initial reviews of "Wisdom of the Crowd" weren't exactly as bad as the reviews of the Ebola virus, but they weren't far from it.

Here's the problem: People watch this thing, me included. They could always easily click over to something else on Sunday nights but they don't. The ratings aren't huge but they could be far worse.

I've never liked Piven as a TV actor. He was one of the reasons I didn't watch Ellen DeGeneres' sitcom and I didn't like him on "Cupid" either.

But, like "The Wisdom of the Crowd," I kept watching that one too. In that case, it was because I loved the Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You" which was the show's theme song and I like Piven's co-star Paula Marshall.

In "Wisdom of the Crowd," I never become so eager to get away from Piven's image on the TV screen that I can't stick around to see Richard T. Jones and Monica Potter, two TV actor's I've always liked.

The problem for those of us who fatten the show's ratings to passable mediocrity every week is that it follows "60 Minutes" and the AFC Football Doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. The show, then, won the time slot lottery from its very first episode. That practically guaranteed a healthy "tune-in."

But it isn't what keeps us viewers around.

In my case, I'm happy to see Piven's co-star but there's something else.

Most of us who have grown up with television have an affection for a certain kind of absurd premise that can be found only on a network TV show. It goes all the way back to the primordial idea TV era when "The Millionaire" became the kind of show that 10-year-olds of all ages could talk about in the schoolyard or barbershop ("Did you see who John Beresford Tipton gave a million dollars to last night?")

"This guy gives away a million a week," said we 10-year olds. "How cool is that?"

With "The Wisdom of the Crowd" it's "this guy solves crimes with his trusty computer app. I bet we could help do that."

Yeah, well.

The show, when you watch, turns out to be a very solidly made piece of standard cop TV. It doesn't overdo the foot chases and car chases and it has lots of emotional entanglements to go along with the fancy-dan hacking. None of those entanglements is fatally intimate.

It's the sort of "TV" watch when they don't want to watch anything in particular or anything particularly good but when they just want to "watch TV" (as Paul Klein used to put it.)

In other words, in another universe, it could have turned into a marathon ratings champ like "NCIS."

In this one, its star -- who was previously a big shot on a Hollywood set frequented by Playboy playmates far down in the cast list -- has been said to behave in ways he denies and which he himself calls "appalling."

Hardly a major loss, to be sure, when it disappears.

It has an audience, though. And that audience may miss it a little when it's gone.

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