Tuesday, February 05, 2008

47.Grosse Pointe

This entry is going to be about as long as the episode run of the series that I'm writing about: short. “Grosse Pointe” was a low-rated show on a little-watched network that started broadcasting in September 2000 and ended in February of 2001, lasting all of 17 episodes. If you're a fan of the show, you're a member of a small club that got to see a smart and subtle program that probably gave it's audience too much credit for their intelligence. The basic premise of the show was that it was centered on a group of actors who starred in a ripoff of “Beverly Hills 90210” and how they dealt with the Hollywood lifestyle and each other. Like “Entourage” or “30 Rock”, it was a show within a show.

Created by Darren Star, the guy behind “90210”, GP focused more on the behind-the-scenes stories that Star felt was way more interesting than anything that he was writing for 90210. You might remember that there was a little bit of controversy when this show first aired, as Star based one of the characters on Tori Spelling. Apparently, Aaron Spelling thought that this portrayal showed his daughter in a bad light (she was written as dumb as a post) and ordered Star to rewrite the character. Star complied and the Spelling character (named Marcy and played by Lindsay Sloan) turned out to be the defacto star of the show.

As an aside, I never bought into the hype and thought that Spelling was doing his old friend a favor by trying to get a little hype whipped up and it probably worked for an episode or two. The problem was any hype was short-lived and the ratings plummeted.

There were a multitude of reasons why this show failed. One was that the show wasn't clearly defined; is GP a drama? Is it a comedy? Is it both? This may have confused the WB core audience, which at the time were mostly teenage girls. During this time “Dawson's Creek” was a run away smash hit and “Seventh Heaven” was doing well for them too. Both of those shows were similar in their easy-to-follow story lines.

And how do you market a subtle satire aimed at a genre that they love? It would be like joining Sportscenter and ripping apart the sporting world while you were showing the highlights. Furthermore, the audience for teen dramas are teenagers. If you were going to make fun or show the behind-the-scenes action of a teen show how can you get people who don't like those programs to watch a program that is about them?

Despite these questions, the WB may have been emboldened with the modest success of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” which paired smart writing with good acting and thought that these two ideals will carry “Grosse Pointe”. I'm just making a broad assumption here, but with “Grosse Pointe”, the completely underrated cartoon “Mission Hill” (more on that show later) and the ironically titled “Popular” all launching around the same time, it seems to me that the WB gave their audience too much credit. All three had subtle plots that focused more on character development and wit rather than a bunch of pretty faces and recycled plots.

Also the problem with a BVS comparison is that Buffy has one defined genre: fantasy, that has a gigantic following. There is really no cross-over so that if you like fantasy-based shows, you watch Buffy; if you don't, you find something else. With a show like “Grosse Pointe” there was never a chance to grab the folks who like comedies or the people who like teen dramas because the former is too broad of a market and the latter is too narrow a market.

I enjoy shows that show the behind-the-scenes action of Hollywood, like “Entourage” or “30 Rock”, but this is a very narrow audience and those shows have something that “Grosse Pointe” didn't have: it never mixed messages and standout characters.

“Entourage” is a show about the movie business and Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold is a character that people talk about and want to watch. On “30 Rock” you're behind the scenes of a sketch comedy show. Previous to “30 Rock” the first time most of the public met Tina Fey, she was behind the news desk of “Saturday Night Live” and so it makes sense to all that she would be on a fake sketch show. Plus Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan who are among the best characters in prime time today. There were none of these things on “Grosse Pointe”, because while the characters were terrific, they weren't particularly memorable.

That's ok. As I alluded to earlier, it was well written and the cast did a good job of getting into their roles. The two standouts were Sloan and Irene Molloy who played the Shannen Doherty character with great aplomb. Since “90210” was a guilty pleasure, it was fun to watch “Grosse Pointe” and which characters were the doppelgangers of their 90210 counterparts. One of the funnier running jokes (and Star insists that this was a joke) was that character based on 90210 patriarch Jim Walsh was secretly gay and wanted his “son”.

While this isn't a top echelon show, it was a decent take on the behind the scenes shenanigans at a television show. Whether the mistakes of “Gross Pointe” completely shape the aforementioned hits of “Entourage” and “30 Rock”, I'm not sure. But I do think that it was a help. If you ever come across the DVDs in a cut out bin or see the show on reruns, give it a try. It's worth a few hours of your time.

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