- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Tangled ‘Weeds’

Showtime’s umpteenth attempt to join HBO in the must-see-originals department turns out to be a real bummer, man.

“Weeds,” a would-be comedy about a single mom who deals marijuana to keep her family afloat, follows in the ignoble footsteps of the network’s recent dramedy “Huff.”

That show, despite its recent Emmy nominations, couldn’t dent the public’s imagination, and “Weeds” appears headed for a similar fate.

It stages an all-out assault on the family-values crowd with enough gratuitous vice, sexual license and snide put-downs of people of faith to keep Brent Bozell busy at least until the start of the new season of “Desperate Housewives.” One “Weeds” character rants against “The Passion of the Christ” in a monologue that snuffs out the episode’s sole funny line, about stoners watching the documentary “Winged Migration.”

Those less inclined to judge are left with vapid characters, stale humor and a fictional California setting few will want to explore.

Young widowed mom Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker, bland in a role crying out for a more complicated actress) maintains the appearance of an upper-middle class lifestyle by dealing marijuana to neighbors in her manicured hamlet. She’s as glamorous as her tony pals, a group that includes Elizabeth Perkins as an even more sin-soaked mama. The weed sales allow her to keep up with the Joneses.

The few gags snuck into the pilot could use a laugh track to announce their arrival, and viewers will be hard-pressed to find one character worthy of sympathy.

That’s not to say there isn’t fertile ground for social commentary with “Weeds” — but we’ve already seen “American Beauty” expertly rip the veneer off suburbia. All “Weeds” can muster is enough tawdry material to justify its pay-cable existence.

OK, Showtime, we get it. You can include foul language and sexualized content that would never make network fare. Now let’s get to a real story and believable scenarios.

The series sneaks at 11 p.m. Sunday before giving way to its triple-play schedule, 10 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights.

Out of the ‘Park’

The longtime hosts of BET’s “106 & Park” are looking for a new address.

The network announced this week that it is letting go of A.J. Calloway and Free after five years, Associated Press reports.

The pair’s exit prompted an “overwhelming” number of calls and e-mails from fans, a network spokeswoman told AP. The popular music-video and interview show, which airs weekdays for 90 minutes at 6 p.m., is a cousin to fellow Viacom network MTV’s “Total Request Live.”

Mr. Calloway said he was told by BET executive Stephen Hill that the network’s new head of programming, Reginald Hudlin, was looking to change the face of the network.

With his contract up, Mr. Calloway said, he was offered a very brief extension — no more than three months. He said he felt he was being given a message.

“If you’re trying to aggressively keep someone, you don’t offer them a month-to-month contract,” Mr. Calloway told AP.

Free did not immediately respond to an e-mail message from AP for comment.

Mr. Calloway said he is looking to stay in show business. He’s opening a restaurant in Brooklyn in the fall.

“I love and respect them for the opportunity they have given me,” he said of the network. “It’s just it’s a hard exit. Nothing lasts forever.”

Fast, funny deadline

NBC wants your comedy spec script — pronto.

With its lineup undisturbed by any new hit comedies, NBC is seeking to fast-track at least one spec script to a pilot order for midseason consideration, Associated Press reports. Submission deadline is Sept. 15.

The initiative is an extension of the aggressive strategy that entertainment President Kevin Reilly has implemented at NBC since the network released its fall schedule to advertisers in May and promised to bring in new material by any means necessary.

This means that even shows passed over by the competition are getting a second look. Case in point: the recent series order for “Windfall,” which was set up at Fox. NBC also recently ordered four cast-contingent comedies this summer and reactivated two pilots it had passed on, “Filmore Middle” and “I Love Faron Hitchman.”

Although August is traditionally the month when networks hear pitches, NBC is set to pounce on the kind of project that writers might find too intimidating to subject to the traditional gantlet of the broadcast development process. NBC could shoot a project submitted now as early as January.

The network’s attempted Hail Mary pass isn’t without precedent.

Last season, writer Marc Cherry submitted on spec the script that became the megahit “Desperate Housewives.”

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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