Goodbye, Raymond. Hello, Madame President

The television industry parades its wares for the 2005-2006 season.

Last night’s series finale of Everybody Loves Raymond left me in the same dilemma that that show’s title has always provoked: Either the claim of the title is in fact fraudulent, or my relative indifference to Raymond and his kin excludes me from all humankind. What about the rest of us—those of us who don’t, in fact, love Raymond? Aren’t we somebody too?

The disappearance of old-fashioned couch sitcoms like Raymond—what I think of as “analog” shows—doesn’t seem like an event to bewail, as long as there’s inventive new programming bubbling up to take their place. In one of the most promising (and surprising) bits of news so far from this week’s TV “upfronts” (the annual presentations at which the networks announce their fall lineups to advertisers), Peter Liguori, the new head of Fox, has renewed Arrested Development  for a third season. I was literally preparing my eulogy for this much-praised but little-watched show and trying to figure out a way to rationalize away the pain of its demise (all things must pass, the Lord calls early on those he loves, etc.). What could have been behind Liguori’s decision? His claim that the decision was “easy” based on the show’s “amazing cast, creative brilliance, critical acclaim and advertiser appeal,” seems suspect—since when did the first three attributes ever add up to the fourth? Is he trying to fight the stereotype of Fox as the classless network, crassly milking its American Idol cash cow? Or does he, genuinely and simply, like the show?

Though only three of the big networks have released their full slates thus far, here are a few of the unveilings worthy of note:

  • NBC’s apocalyptic drama  Revelations will be facing up to the real Last Days, going unrenewed after its initial six-episode run. In your face, Fred Durst  … I mean, Satan! But God hasn’t completely deserted the fourth-place network (though it may seem so after last season’s disastrous run  of expensive and unsuccessful programming). The Christian singer Amy Grant will host NBC’s Three Wishes, an Extreme Makeover-style reality show in which deserving people get life-changing gifts. (A spinoff in which lepers pray in vain to an icon of Celine Dion is still under development.)

  • The WB is floating something called “Misconceptions,” which Virginia Heffernan (blogging the upfronts  live for the New York Times) calls “a classic sperm-donor comedy of errors.” That makes not one but two reproductive-technology-themed shows for the fall season; yesterday NBC announced “Inconceivable,” a drama set in a fertility clinic (sample line via Heffernan: “Whose eggs did you put inside of me?!”). Apparently some demographic research has convinced network types that there’s nothing Americans want to see more than a weekly round of IVF cycles and Pergonal injections. That’s impregnable programming! It’s anything but barren … of laughs!

  • Which of these two things is more quintessentially ‘90s: 1) a political climate progressive enough to be receptive to the notion of a female president, or 2) the acting career of Geena Davis? No need to decide: With ABC’s new drama Commander-in-Chief, you can revisit both! Actually, maybe not so much the former, since the premise of the show is apparently that Davis, as an acting VP with a husband and three children, has to fight sexist resistance within her own party when she tries to take over for a dying president. This promising-looking drama also stars the magisterial Donald Sutherland, hopefully in more than just a brief cameo role as the dying guy.

I’ll return to the news from the upfronts throughout the week as they happen. But for the love of all that’s holy, don’t miss tonight’s premiere of the show toward which all of reality television, and perhaps all Western culture, has been (d)evolving for the past five years: UPN’s Britney and Kevin: Chaotic. I’ll be watching with laptop at hand, and knowing there are others out there will help me feel less alone.