My Fall TV Season Entry: 'Fantasy Landfill'

I'm always amused by the media circus that ushers in the new fall TV season. In fact, little of what emerges from the annual network blitz is really new.

This time around, viewers are being offered the standard menu of familiar plots and personalities.

There are guy shows ("The Secret Lives of Men"), stages-of-life ("Felicity," "Maggie Winters"), sexy duets ("To Have & To Hold"), and family sagas ("Legacy," "Trinity"). The Olson twins are back ("Two of a Kind").

And I honestly thought it was a joke when I heard that Fantasy Island and Hollywood Squares were being called out of retirement.

In school, my teachers would have laughed at any attempt to fulfill writing assignments by updating popular classics such as 'The Red Badge of Courage' or 'A Christmas Carol.'

But in Hollywood, such lack of creativity is encouraged.

The shortage of original ideas puzzles me. I can only assume that producers are spending too much time watching old shows, or having lunch with agents. They need to get out more often, and discover that plenty of entertaining story lines are hidden in the nuances of modern culture.

As evidence, I offer two incidents from my own life that could serve as pilot episodes for new shows.

Several weeks ago, I took a pile of rubbish to the local dump, and lost my car keys. It was 20 minutes before closing time, out in a remote area, and the truck I was driving belongs to my father-in-law.

Truckloads of viewers would surely be hooked immediately by this zany predicament.

So why hasn't any network realized that a landfill is the perfect setting for a sitcom? It's the final resting place for stuff nobody wants.

How many times have you seen someone driving along with a load of weird junk and thought, "What's that all about?" On a landfill comedy, we'd get plenty of answers.

My other idea is based on a wild chase my wife and I had at the Montreal airport. Our luggage had been tagged for the wrong connecting flight, and while rushing to track it down, we came upon a man and woman trying to load the biggest dog on Earth into an airline travel container.

The canine appeared to be three-quarters St. Bernard and one-quarter triceratops, and wasn't very cooperative. The thought of that creature breaking loose and running amok during the inflight meal service still makes me tremble.

Bizarre baggage and frantic passengers would surely give an airport TV series the blend of drama, wit, and pathos that sustained long-running hits such as Hill Street Blues.

Now that I''ve put these concepts on the table, I should probably stay near a phone in case a producer calls. If the new fall lineup falls flat, they'll need "midseason'" replacements by Halloween.

* Jeffrey Shaffer, who writes from Portland, Ore., is a humor columnist for the Monitor.

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