Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Gedrick: Portrait of a Show Killer

In today's column, I review "Windfall," a drama about a group of young lottery winners that NBC's giving the same kind of Summer Burn-Off Theatre treatment that Fox has given in the past to shows like "The Inside" and "Keen Eddie." It's a coulda-woulda sorta show: off-beat premise, decent cast and some problems that might have been worked out if the show wasn't doomed from the jump.

But the interesting thing for me about "Windfall" is the presence of Jason Gedrick in one of the lead roles. Any male of my generation who had HBO growing up knows Gedrick as the kid from "Iron Eagle," a sort of teenage "Top Gun" that I would no doubt find awful if I hadn't seen it approximately seven dozen times between the ages of 13 and 16. (He also starred in "The Heavenly Kid," a movie so awful in every respect that Jane Kaczmarek probably wishes she could bribe IMDb to remove it from her credits list.)

For professional purposes, Gedrick's fascinating to me as the reigning champion among active male Show Killers on television (Paula Marshall, I believe, is the female titleholder at the moment), one of those people who, year after year after year, winds up in a project that's destined to fail.

Now, some Show Killers earn that title by being appealing to casting directors but not to audiences (see Eric Balfour), while others are just in need of the right project (see George Clooney, Patricia Heaton, most of the cast of "Friends," etc.). I don't think Gedrick has the star power to carry a show on his own, but his downfall has mostly come from picking ambitious projects that needed everything to work perfectly -- the execution, the marketing, the timeslot -- to have a prayer of succeeding. He could probably join the Jerry Bruckheimer army if he just wanted a steady but unchallenging paycheck, but he'd rather swing for the fences every time. (Maybe he and Katharine McPhee should team up for some kind of Dave Kingman tribute band.)

So, before "Windfall" gives Gedrick another unwanted notch on his gun belt, let's take a stroll down memory lane at the many, many, many other shows he's either killed or died on, after the jump...

"Class of '96"
Aired: 17 episodes over a half season on Fox in the spring of '93.
Premise: College students in the class of, um, 96, adjust to life after high school.
Gedrick's role: Aspiring writer David Morrissey, who was also the show's narrator.
Also starred:
Lisa Dean Ryan, Kari Wuhrer, Megan Ward
Why it failed: I was a member of the actual class of '96, and the show's one season coincided with the only year in college where I didn't have a TV set in my room. (Shockingly, my grades were also highest that year.) So I can't really judge, except to note that shows about high school and college kids didn't really have a high success rate until a few years into the existence of the WB.

"Sweet Justice"
Aired: Almost a full season on CBS in 1994-5, though the last episode got burned off in the summer
Premise: Melissa Gilbert played a New York lawyer who returned to her Southern roots to do defense work with local civil rights legend Cicely Tyson.
Gedrick's role: Local reporter (and Gilbert's ex-boyfriend) Bailey Connors
Also starred: Gilbert, Tyson, Ronny Cox, Cree Summer, Greg Germann
Why it failed: Missed this one, too, though I would have loved to hear Gedrick's attempt at a Southern accent. Still, he was listed, like, seventh in the credits, and if people were going to watch, it would be to see Laura Ingalls Wilder hang out with Miss Jane Pittman.

"Murder One"
Aired: Two frequently disrupted seasons on ABC from 1995 to 1997, though Gedrick was only in the case for season one.
Premise: A high-profile LA criminal law firm takes the case of a movie star accused of murdering his girlfriend.
Gedrick's role: The cokehead movie star, Neil Avedon.
Also starred: Daniel Benzali, Stanley Tucci, Dylan Baker, Patricia Clarkson, Kevin Tighe, Mary McCormack and many, many more.
Why it failed: Whether America had the patience to watch a single storyline play out over an entire season six years before "24" tried it will never be known, because ABC buried the show on Thursday at 10 -- against the early juggernaut version of "ER" -- for most of its first season. When they brought it back for season two -- where it was buried against "Seinfeld," because that's the sort of stuff ABC did in those days -- both Benzali and the one case per season format were gone, replaced by Anthony LaPaglia and three different story arcs. Gedrick would have been gone no matter what, but he did a great job as Avedon, especially considering some of the other heavy hitters in the cast. His introductory scene, where he shows up for court coked out of his mind, then turns on the acting chops to appear sober and contrite for the judge, was the first time I realized the kid from "Iron Eagle" had real talent.

"EZ Streets"
Aired: Nine of 10 hours produced aired intermittently on CBS over the '96-'97 season.
Premise: In an unnamed Rust Belt city, disgraced cop Cameron Quinn (Ken Olin) is asked to get close to sociopath gangster Jimmy Murtha (Joe Pantoliano), whose actions have been disrupting the business of the mobsters with their hands in City Hall's pockets.
Gedrick's role: Danny Rooney, a hot-tempered lug just out of a prison stint for a crime Murtha committed, trying to go straight and win back his junkie wife and the daughter who was a baby when he went away.
Also starred: Debrah Farentino, John Finn, Mike Starr, R.D. Call, Sarah Trigger, Carl Lumbly
Why it failed: "EZ Streets" was the very first pilot I ever watched as a professional TV critic, so I've never been completely rational about it, but I remain convinced of two things: 1)It is one of the three or four best things I've ever seen on TV, and 2)No way in hell was it going to succeed on CBS in 1996. The storytelling was too dark, too dense, and Pantoliano (in the best performance of his career) was several years from going from Hey It's That Guy to Joey Pants. This show is also the reason I pay so much more attention to Gedrick than your average show killer. He's really good throughout, but especially in the final, unaired episode, when Danny and his wife briefly reconcile, featuring the purest on-screen kiss this side of Westley and Buttercup. But no one could have saved "EZ Streets."

Aired: Nine episodes aired on CBS over eight nights in April of 2000
Premise: A TV version of "Donnie Brasco," with FBI agent Joe Pistone going undercover with the New York mob at great risk to his life and his marriage.
Gedrick's role: Pistone, whose TV undercover name was Joe Falcone
Also starred: Titus Welliver, Robert John Burke, Amy Carlson and future felon Lillo Brancato Jr.
Why it failed: If any Gedrick failure is largely his fault, it's this one. Not that he was bad in the role -- it's one of his better performances, after only "EZ Streets" and "Murder One" -- but this was the most obvious Jason Gedrick vehicle ever made, hot on the heels of his work in CBS' successful "Last Don" miniseries and the subject of a big ad campaign during that year's March Madness tournament. And still nobody showed up. Whether they didn't care about Gedrick or didn't want to watch what was being positioned as an obvious "Sopranos" rip-off (the one-sheet was almost identical), nobody came.

"The Beast"
Aired: Five of six produced episodes aired on ABC in June and July of 2001
Premise: "Network" meets "Big Brother" (the CBS version) as a cable news network tries to make its on and off-camera personnel part of the story by broadcasting everything they do or say on the channel's website.
Gedrick's role: Hard-drinking anchorman Reese McFadden
Also starred: Frank Langella, Elizabeth Mitchell, Peter Riegert, Naveen Andrews, Wendy Crewson
Why it failed: If there's anything America cares less about watching than TV shows about the inner workings of show business, it's watching TV shows about the inner workings of the journalism business. ("Murphy Brown" and "Mary Tyler Moore" don't count; the occupations were almost besides the point.) The idea of complete journalistic transparency would be more interesting in this age of Jayson Blair and Judith Miller, but it was a stylistic mess that never would've found an audience -- which is why ABC turned it into Summer Burn-Off Theatre. I've blotted out most of my memory of the show, but I vaguely recall Gedrick being hammier than usual.

Aired: Two episodes into its second season, NBC pulled it off the schedule, though many of the remaining episodes aired on Bravo.
Premise: High-profile LA crimes seen from multiple perspectives: a pair of homicide detectives, a publicity hound DA, a reporter, a paramedic and a couple of uniform grunts
Gedrick's role: One of the uniform grunts, Tom Turcotte
Also starred: Neal McDonough, Donnie Wahlberg, Mykelti Williamson, Gara Basaraba
Why it failed: A lot of critics were gaga over "Boomtown," but I wasn't one of them. The idea that it was "Rashomon: the Series" ignored two facts: 1)Creator Graham Yost had never seen "Rashomon," and 2)The show rarely bothered to use subjective narrative, but just broke each story into puzzle pieces to be re-assembled over an hour. Though McDonough was great as the flashy DA, the show piled cliche on top of cliche on top of cliche (McDonough's character was hot-headed, philandering Irish drunk son of a philandering, hot-headed Irish drunk), many episodes were indistinguishable from very cheesey action movies (Fearless taking on the entire Russian mob of LA at an abandoned motel comes to mind) and when NBC ordered a more straightforward storytelling style for the second season, it became even more obvious that the emperor was wearing thrift store clothes. And Gedrick was too underused to have played any role in whether people watched or not.


Anonymous said...

Oh, I loved Boomtown when it was on. That was a decent show. Mainly because of McDonough, whom I followed to that Medical Investigation show for the one season that was on.

As for Gedrick, I don't count him as the showkiller for Windfall. I see that more as Luke "I can't act my way out of a wet paper bag" Perry's mission this time around.

Tosy And Cosh said...

Fellow Class of '96er, I salute you! (Didn't go to Rutgers, did you?)

Anonymous said...

The only thing I remember about The Beast was the very first scene of the pilot, featuring a nude, strategically arranged Elizabeth Mitchell lolling around in a bed with... some dude.

Boomtown had one great episode, the one with Patricia Wettig as, basically, Sara Jane Olson. Then it was, yeah, Mykelti Williamson jumping off the roof of a motel firing a machine gun.

Eric Fingerhut said...

Murder One may have aired a few times on Thursday, but I believe most of its episodes aired on Monday nights after Monday Night Football ended. It started to pick up momentum in the ratings by the end of the year, but then when they brought it back the next year without Benzali and on Thursday nights against Seinfeld, it was doomed.

And the show "Class of '96" was another one of those great high school/college dramas in the tradition of My So-Called Life and Freaks and Geeks that failed for reasons that anyone with an appreciation of good television has never been able to understand.

Mac said...

If Gedrick and Carla Gugino ever had a child, it could probably take down a network.

Anonymous said...

I saw a "special preview" of this on a plane coming back from Chicago and found it laughably bad. It was more entertaining when I turned off the sound. That being said, I agree with Jaynee that Gedrick is not the showkiller here--it's definitely Luke Perry.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Eric, "Murder One" debuted on Tuesdays at 10, where it was to air for three weeks before the fourth episode would air in its regular Thursday timeslot two nights after episode three. The Tuesday ratings were pretty good the first two weeks, but on the third Tuesday, some development in the OJ trial led ABC to schedule a news special that night at 10, and with no warning they aired episode three at 9 o'clock, when exactly no one knew it would be on. So any momentum they might have had for the move to Thursday was completely destroyed.

The show did air on Thursdays for at least the first half of the season, and after it became obvious that "ER" was destroying it, they moved it to Mondays -- by which point it was too late to get people to hop on board of the season-long story.

Larry said...

I think Paula's show killer status has to be somewhat alleviated due to the fact that she has a recurring role on Veronica Mars and that show has been renewed twice against all odds.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Larry, Paula's only appeared three or four times total over two seasons on VM -- not nearly enough for her to be considered any factor in the show's success or failure. Meanwhile, shows she has been a regular castmember include:

-Wild Oats
-Chicago Sons
-Cursed/The Weber Show
-Hidden Hills
-Out of Practice

Larry McGillicuddy said...

Yeah, she has been on alot of bad stuff. I just thought it was interesting of all the shows she wasn't able to kill, it was Veronica Mars (some people include Sports Night on her list).

BTW, I thought Out of Practice was a decent traditional-style sitcom and horribly mismanaged by CBS. On almost any other network it would have been renewed.

SeriouslyNoWay said...

A yes, "The Beast" was most certainly not the fault of any of the actors. That was a steller cast.

Anonymous said...

Chyler Leigh has started off on the right foot to inherit Paula Marshell's title.

- That 80s Show
- Girls' Club
- Reunion
- Safe Harbor
- Wilder Days
- Saving Graces

(I assume those last three were just pilots that weren't picked up.)

R.A. Porter said...

First off, to larrymcg, I've got to hope that when you said Paula's "been on a lot of bad stuff" you weren't counting "Cupid". That show suffered a horrible, undeserved fate, and if Cusack had bothered to do his bud a proper with a guest spot, maybe it would have gotten a ratings spike and caught some fire.

As for "Boomtown", I loved it for the performances, of both the subtle and scenery-chewing varieties. My favorite episode would probably be the standoff at the sporting goods store, for Gary Basaraba's great, nuanced job and for Joe Penny's unexpectedly human portrayal of an alternate-earth Joe Penny.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Unsold pilots don't usually count against a show killer's totals. If they did, George Clooney's pre-ER total would be significantly higher, since he did a bunch of Warner Bros. pilots for Les Moonves that never aired. One of the champs of pilot killing is Craig Bierko, who does an unsuccessful pilot almost every year. (Fienberg says he's hearing rumors that Bierko will be replacing Bruno Campos in Fox's "The Wedding Album," so maybe the trick for him is to sign on to a show after the pilot's been shot.)

Anonymous said...

...sigh...EZ Streets...yeah Alan, I have the same lack of objectivity as you. It was an 'HBO drama' before HBO was doing original series, and it was on a network that never supported it. That cancellation broke my heart a little.

Sarah D. Bunting said...

I loved Class of '96. I knew it wasn't very good, but I loved it.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Gary Cole who is like some sort of curse...