April 19, 2011

Getting the Boot (On T.V.)

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The amount of attention that Charlie Sheen has received in the media is quite astonishing. His departure from network television’s highest rated sitcom, Two and a Half Men, is really more of a crushing blow to the executives at CBS and Warner Brothers than to viewers at home. With eight seasons in reruns of the program already on air, it’s hard to imagine that the average Men fan won’t be able to find his or her fix. The storylines are relatively stable and the draw of the show is the frequency of crass jokes. They are plugged into the show to ensure that audiences are constantly laughing, but many agree that the humor is best categorized as “mindless.”

Now, Mr. Sheen is reportedly begging CBS for his old job back, from which he was terminated in March. CBS, of course, denied this possibility. What Mr. Sheen has failed to realize is that people who leave positions on television can easily be replaced and forgotten.

Think of Conan O’Brien. While he’s certainly not forgotten and is doing just fine, the former host of Late Night and the Tonight Show has fallen off the radar somewhat since his move to TBS. He felt betrayed by network executives for moving his failing Tonight Show to a later timeslot, and his career certainly could have benefitted from continuing to follow Jay Leno a little while longer, until it was really clear that he was ready to retire. Sadly, Mr. O’Brien has been relegated to basic cable, and he’s not nearly getting the same quality of attention from college-aged audiences that Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert’s shows get, or Conan once did himself. Former SNL vet Jimmy Fallon is performing well as Conan’s NBC Late Night replacement, and Leno continues to hold down the fort at Tonight.

On the CBS Evening News, rumors are swirling that Katie Couric is about ready to bolt. After serving as America’s favorite newswoman on the highly rated Today Show, she later left to become an anchorwoman for the evening news on CBS’ third-place broadcast. In her wake, former View co-host Meredith Vieira stepped up to replace Couric. As a result, her pairing with Matt Lauer has made the program as formidable as ever. An effective transition can easily retain viewers, despite their sentiments toward the talent.

With Steve Carell’s departure from The Office later this month, the impact could be enormous. The character of Michael Scott is one of the most iconic and nuanced creations in television history. Mr. Carell’s exit has been covered well in the press, but not nearly at the same level as Mr. Sheen’s. Of course, the Charlie Sheen news story centered on the actor volunteering to share a psychotic episode with various news outlets, but in reality, The Office garners much lower ratings than Men does, and it’s likely that less money is involved.

The one difference between the two shows is that Michael Scott’s exit from The Office may not be the demise of the series. The latest episode, which detailed a new boss’ transition (played beautifully by Will Ferrell), was one of the best in recent memory, realistically depicting the dynamics of an office workplace when staffing changes occur. It’s forced a tired series to go back to its roots, focusing on the inner-workings of an American workplace. Viewers didn’t initially tune in to watch the star of The 40 Year Old Virgin act in a sitcom, but were instead attracted to the content. Of course, Steve Carell’s performance was a vital draw, but who’s to say a new idiosyncratic, well-written character can’t achieve some success?

It’s got to be better than most other stuff on television. Some shows shouldn’t stay on past their expiration date. I’ll know for sure when I hear this episode promo: “Next week, on an all-new How I Met Your Mother, Ted discovers he’s balding, while Robin realizes that she may be going through early stages of menopause.”

Original Author: Scott Eidler