If you're still under the misapprehension that network programmers put shows on the air because they're good, please watch tonight's premiere of "The Simple Life" (7:30 p.m., Ch. 2). It will convince you once and for all that that's just not the truth.
This sitcom is so incredibly bad that you instantly know there must be another explanation. And there is.The show is a misbegotten and completely unfunny half-hour that is actually CBS's second try in a matter of months at wringing humor out of the Martha Stewart phenomenon. (At least "Style & Subtance" was funny.)
Judith Light ("Who's the Boss?") stars as Sara Campbell, the star of her own television show full of helpful hints about how to live "The Simple Life" in a down-home, country way.
Of course, Sara has never lived anywhere but the big city, so in the premiere she leaves Manhattan and buys a farm in upstate New York. You'd think she just moved to "Green Acres," what with the countrified rubes she runs into after the move.
(As a native upstater, let me assure you it ain't . . . er, uh, it isn't quite like that in most places.)
The premise of the show allows for such hysterical antics as when the foreman (Brett Cullen) on Sara's new farm comes in and tells her he's "late for stud services."
Shucks, what a hootenanny.
The cast is annoying rather than humorous. The plots are so dumb even the folks in Hooterville won't be able to identify.
And worse than the main plot-line itself is a series of scenes featuring "The Nanny" herself, Fran Fine (Fran Drescher). The most annoying conceit in "The Simple Life" is that Fran went to high school with Sara and that she of the honking voice spends the entire episode attempting to get to upstate New York to see her old friend.
This stuff is not just not funny, it's actually painfully unfunny. If you insist on watching, you may want to pop some Dramamine before you turn on the TV.
Of course, that Fran Drescher connection explains how "The Simple Life" got on the air. This comes from the same producers as "The Nanny," and (off the record) a CBS executive admitted the obvious - the reason "Simple Life" made it on the air was to keep Drescher and Co. happy.
It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but given the declining ratings of "The Nanny," it hardly seems worth the effort these days.
Of course, they're not total idiots at CBS. They know very well that this show has no chance of being a success. That's why they scheduled it now, in the TV season dead zone.
Heck, the show has been effectively canceled before it even goes on the air. It's not on CBS's fall schedule, and burning episodes off in the summer is just a way of making back some of the money that the network has already spent on "The Simple Life."
Perhaps a better title would have been "A Short Life." But not short enough.
MORE ON "DR. QUINN": CBS President Les Moonves has defended his cancellation of "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" as a financial necessity. He pointed out that the show finished fourth - behind ABC, NBC and Fox - in its time slot among viewers 18-49, making it a big-time loser for the network's bottom line.
And let's not forget that network television is a for-profit industry, not a charity.
He also pointed out that the show's overall ratings had declined dramatically in the past two seasons and deflected criticism that he favored the show's replacement, "Martial Law" - which is half owned by CBS - by pointing out that CBS owns 100 percent of "Dr. Quinn."
"Unfortunately, we get paid zero - not a nickel, but zero - for anybody over 55," Moonves told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Despite the show's very loyal and devoted audience, the amount of money we were getting per advertising spot was disastrous."
But there is some good news for fans of the show. CBS has indeed ordered a two-hour movie, which will air early next season. And it could be the first of a series of made-for-TV movies.
ANGEL-IC SPINOFF: Well, all you "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fans, it's true - the WB really is planning a spinoff series for sometime next year. And the title? It's "Angel."
How exactly Angel (David Boreanaz), the reluctant vampire we last saw being sucked down into hell, is going to come back and star in a new show has yet to be revealed.
WAITING FOR MARY: By the way, although the revival of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" isn't on ABC's fall schedule, the project isn't dead. The sitcom redux, in which Moore would reprise her role as Mary Richards and Valerie Harper would return as Rhoda Morgenstern, is still officially "in development."
The holdup seems to be finding decent writers to work on the show. And you've got to give Moore credit for holding out until she does find writers who are up to the task - if such writers even exist.
WAITING FOR DILBERT: Likewise, after much talk UPN didn't put the animated series based on the "Dilbert" comic strip on its fall schedule. But, not to worry - animation just takes time. Expect to see "Dilbert" on TV in January.
By the way, Daniel Stern will be providing the voice of Dilbert, and other voices will include Chris Elliot, Larry Miller and Kathy Griffen ("Suddenly Susan").
DOUBLE TIME: Somewhat surprisingly, CBS didn't add another news magazine to its fall schedule, but it is adding another one this summer. Beginning June 22, a second edition of "48 Hours" will be seen Mondays at 9 p.m. That's in addition to its regular Thursday-night airing.
QUOTABLE: "Late Night" host Conan O'Brien: "Yesterday in Connecticut, a former priest performed an exorcism on a 10-year-old boy. Apparently, right after the devil was expelled, she went back to co-hosting her show with Regis."