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1. Freaks and Geeks: Not Quite Totally '80s
Production Notes (from Dreamworks Television's Publicity Brochure)
What's up with kids today? Don't ask Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig and executive producer Judd Apatow. Although Feig is an honored graduate of the prestigious USC Film School, and Apatow is a prolific Emmy-winning writer-producer, when it comes to delineating the details of life in a modern-day high school, the two are kind of, well, clueless.
"The more we talked about it," says Apatow of developing Freaks and Geeks, "the more we realized that we don't know anything about what high school's like in 1999. If we tried to write it, it would certainly come across as false." To make an honest show, the producers chose to draw from their own youthful experiences. So welcome to suburban Michigan's McKinley High School, circa 1980, a world full of freaks and geeks that series creator Feig knows all too well.
"The world is definitely the world I'm from," notes Feig, a 1980 alumnus of Chippewa Valley High School in the suburbs east of Detroit. "The burnouts are into cars and rock-and-roll, and the geeks are into sci-fi and cartoons. Those are all my friends and people I knew." Adds Apatow, who went to high school on New York's Long Island. "I saw a lot of myself in the world he created. It was very easy for me to get inspired and say, 'Oh, I could tell you a thousand stories'."
The stories they tell are the ones shared by anybody who has lived through - or is living through - the teenage years, regardless of time or place. "The experience of people who went to school even in the '60s is very similar to this show," says Apatow. "High school is universal. I don't think it's much different today. It just might be a little worse."
Yet the '80s setting does affect the structure of Freaks and Geeks. Was there ever a time before e-mail and cell phones? Yes, there was. 1980. 'Back then there was no call waiting, there weren't answering machines, there was no Star 69," says Apatow. "So if you had a problem with someone, you were more likely to actually speak with them about it directly."
"I also wanted it to be pre-AIDS," Feig says, "because a lot of the show is about the politics of being afraid of the opposite sex, and dating and all that entails. If you were a kid who was afraid of sex in 1980, you were weird. If you're afraid of sex today, you're smart."
As for the day's national politics, the era of Reaganomics forms a backdrop for the show, as it did in Feig's youth. "In Detroit when I grew up, all the auto workers were being laid off like crazy," he recalls. "At the same time in our community there were people whose dads were lawyers or they were auto executives, so there were really the haves and the have-nots in the school. A lot of the outsider freaks and geeks were from the lower income families."
Even during the '80s, Feig admits he wasn't really tuned in to the '80s. "When I was in high school the hostages were going on and all that," recalls Feig. "You'd kind of see it on the news, but you were so much into your own world of being an adolescent." And adolescence, notes Feig, "is such an egocentric time of your life."
For Apatow and Feig, then, 1980 was less about Ronald Reagan and Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, and more about Wacky Packs, Pop Rocks, and a healthy fear of girls and gym class. Their points of reference are more personal, filtered into the show's look, characters and stories.
"Much of the detail work is very specific to our experience," says Apatow, who began finding his comic voice as the teen host of a high school radio show called "Club Comedy." His obsession with the rebellious comedians of the late '70s is reflected in the show. "Sam has this big Steve Martin poster in his room, and that love of people like that, who are very anti-establishment, whether it be Steve Martin or Groucho Marx, showed you another way of looking at the world. Because in high school you thought, 'This entire system sucks.'"
Lindsay Weir's conspicuous Army jacket showcased in the pilot episode is a personal reference for Feig, whose father ran an Army surplus store. He knew the look he wanted Lindsay to have, specifically instructing the costumers to get her a large "o.d. green" Army field jacket. "I wore that all the time when I got to college," recalls Feig.
Looking to his past growing up as an only child, it's the stories involving Lindsay's little brother Sam that best represent Feig's awkward teen years. "Lindsay is a total invention of mine," according to Feig. Her character represents what Feig confesses is "a big heaping dose of me today." On the other hand, Sam Weir "is definitely based on me when I was that age because I was a little less mature than all the other kids around me. My friends and I were that same way."
In Sam's stories, we get a glimpse of Feig's life in the late '70s and early '80s. Feig points to the Halloween episode involving Sam Weir's last outing as a trick-or-treater. "It's basically the nightmare of going out when really you shouldn't have gone out, which happened to me exactly. I remember gathering my next-door neighbors and saying, 'We gotta go out!' I dressed up like C3PO and went out, and it was a disaster. People were like, 'Aren't you guys too old?' And things starting ripping. It was just horrible. You end the night going, 'O.K. Now I'm not a kid anymore."'
Sam's budding love life, or lack thereof, is also inspired by Feig's experiences. "I hardly dated at all in high school, but the few that I had were fairly disastrous." He recounts taking a girl to a school dance. "She got drunk on beer and spent the evening in the bathroom throwing up. Then she wanted me to kiss her at the end of the night. And I said, 'You just threw up!"' For Sam Weir, the relationship with cheerleader Cindy Sanders is more indirectly nightmarish, but familiar to Feig. "He becomes her platonic best friend. He's trying to nail her down as his girlfriend, and he overcompensates by being the nice guy so much that she starts talking about guys she likes." Feig was always the nice guy.
Rummaging through the past is part of Apatow and Feig's method. "I was the funny kid who hung out with some of the football players," recalls Apatow. "So I'd like to write a storyline about Neal becoming friends with the jocks because he's funny, and how the geeks respond to that." He digs further back, too. "I had another group of friends in seventh grade and we all rode dirt bikes together. They slowly turned into the school potheads, and then I couldn't be friends with them anymore because I was terrified of drugs."
For young Feig and Apatow, sex, drugs and rock-and-roll were way more of a menace than the threat of the Soviet Union. Says Apatow, "There were some kids who not only didn't drink, they were terrified of drinking. There were kids who not only didn't have sex, they didn't want to have sex."
"Those are the stories you never hear," notes Apatow, who, with Feig, intends to tell them on Freaks and Geeks. After all, the show is about the truth of being a teen, whether it's the '80s, '70s, '60s or whenever. For the producers, looking back to their own youths is the only way they could be true
to that common experience. "We all went through it, no matter how cool we think we are, or were," says Feig. "That's what I hope will be the universal appeal of the show. The number one thing I want to accomplish with this show is honesty. It just has to be an honest show."
Of course, we know what became of '80s guys Feig and Apatow, but what about their fictional counterparts on Freaks and Geeks? "I have very definite plans for what will happen with each kid in the future," says Feig. "Some kids are going to be successful. Somebody could end up in jail, somebody's going to end up laid off. Somebody's going to be on welfare." This just reflects reality, according to Feig.
Apatow has a slightly different take on the question of where are they now. "I think the geeks are doing very well," he says. Focusing on Sam Weir's geekiest buddy, Bill Haverchuck, Apatow concludes, "I think that Bill somehow got married and has several kids and lives in Orange, New Jersey ... He works as an analyst on Wall Street."
Gee, how '90s.
2. E! Online Reviews: Freaks and Geeks
Call it That '80s Show. Or The Blunder Years. Freaks And Geeks deals with the hardships of high school back in the good old '80s. While it has its share of poignant moments, this is one of those shows where kids espouse wisdom beyond their years, and parents and teachers are sad old buffoons. High-school nostalgia has already been done - and done better than this (see Richard Linklater's Dazed And Confused). Besides, the world would be a better place if we never heard a Styx song again.
Also starring: John Daley, Linda Cardellini, Samm Levine, JamesFranco, Jason Segel, Becky Ann Baker
3. Weekly Alibi: Freaks and Geeks on NBC
By Devin D. O'Leary
OCTOBER 11, 1999: Watch enough of the new television season and you'll walk away with the abiding impression that teenagers are all either angst-ridden cheerleaders or angst-ridden yearbook staff nerds -- both of which have an overwhelming propensity to verbalize their inner neuroses directly at the camera.
That isn't to say that NBC's new teen drama "Freaks and Geeks" varies wildly from the formula. Placed up against all the other high school-based comedy/dramas, however, "F & G" emerges as an intelligent and sympathetic stab at the old flashback genre. At least it understands that there are far more strata in the high school food chain than merely the popular (rich, dumb athletes) and the unpopular (poor, smart computer geeks).
Set in the nascent days of the 1980s, "Freaks and Geeks" follows an ensemble cast of adolescent dweebs at a Michigan high school. Stories center largely around sophomore chick Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) and her freshman bro Sam (John Daley). Cursed with both a brain and a rich family, Lindsay is trying desperately to reinvent herself as the new school year starts. Adopting a petulant attitude and decked out in her dad's grungy old Army jacket, Lindsay tries her best to shake off her "mathlete" past and wiggle her way into the school's "freak" contingent. Sam, by way of contrast, is a hopeless little nerd who spends his days huddling in a corner of the lunchroom with fellow geeks Neal and Bill talking "Star Trek." Unlike his older sibling, Sam isn't yet armed with enough self-awareness to try and shake off the bad haircut and high-water pants.
The greatest asset in "Freaks and Geeks" is that it never tries too hard to drive home a funny joke or nail down some hard-hitting drama. The show never sacrifices believability for the sake of fiction. The characters never descend into easy stereotypes. The stories never wrap themselves into pat sitcom endings. As a result, some may find the show a little too realistic, a little too mild. But it's a refreshing change from all the silly histrionics of (yawn) anorexic cheerleaders and (yawn) overachieving honor students.
The greatest sin of today's teen-driven shows is that the characters are all blessed with a ridiculous level of intelligence and introspective ability, allowing them to outthink all the bumbling, jaded adults and to comment wryly on everything around them (thank you very much, "Dawson's Creek"). The teenagers in "Freaks and Geeks" are exactly as advertised. They all talk and act just like real teenagers -- lacking in confidence and understanding, and trying desperately to figure out the skills it will take to navigate the adult world.
No one here has a quick, catty quip. No one here looks like they belong on a Noxema commercial. No one here knows anything about sex, except that their raging hormones are telling them that they need it soon. The funniest moments are tiny, yet well-observed. The most dramatic moments are understated, yet telling.
Forget all those other teen talkers -- with a crackerjack cast, some damn fine writing and that added nostalgia bonus, "Freaks and Geeks" deserves to be at the head of the class.
4. Detroit News: Freaks and Geeks Draws on School Days of Writer
By Tim Kiska / Detroit News Television Writer
Writer-producer Paul Feig may not be attending his 20th reunion at Clinton Township's Chippewa Valley High School.
The reason: His new TV show, Freaks and Geeks (debuting at 8 p.m. Saturday on NBC, Channel 4) is based on his experiences as a student there in the class of 1980.
"I'm terrified to go because I'm sure some Carrie-style event is going to happen," jokes Feig, executive producer and creator of the sitcom.
On the other hand, Feig's former fellow students might think about hoisting him on their shoulders. As dark and bleak as the portrayal of high school is in Freaks and Geeks, one could argue that Feig got high school right.
If you watch the WB's Dawson's Creek or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, here's the picture you get of high school: Students, both male and female, look like models. They are sexually self-confident, well dressed, mostly sure of where they're going and have a witty answer for every difficult situation.
But for many people, maybe even most, high school is a horror show: Dating is a terrifying, often painful prospect. There are bullies to contend with, pressures from teachers and family. It's a confusing time, made worse by the fact that everybody's nerves are too close to their skin. Every insult, every bad situation, is acutely felt.
Freaks and Geeks is high school, with laughter through the tears. None of the characters look like they're models getting ready to walk down a runway; they look like normal people.
And yes, it is vaguely autobiographical.
Feig, 37, grew up in Clinton Township. His parents owned Ark Surplus, an Army-Navy store there. (In fact, one of the bullies in the opening episode tells another character, "I shoplift at your parents' store.")
The one-hour show, which has plenty of drama despite the jokes, is set at mythical William McKinley High School in Michigan, circa 1980. But it could easily have been set in Macomb County.
There are several classes of people in Freaks and Geeks: There are the freaks -- the ones who idolize the late John Bonham of Led Zeppelin. There are the geeks, the kind of people who wear glasses and are constantly abused by the school bullies. And, of course, there are the bullies.
Feig said he lived through all of it.
Asked if his own high school experience was unremittingly horrible, Feig says: "My memory of it was that it was. I was a tall, skinny, geeky kid who was a pacifist and kind of a gentle giant, if you will.
"And what happened is, especially if you were tall, everybody would cut their teeth on you because they knew you wouldn't fight back. ... So, from my personal experience and my friends, too, we were all geeks, and we just got picked on constantly because of it."
Dr. Walt Tycholiz, Feig's high school instructor in radio and television, remembers him as "one of the best kids I ever had. He was always performing, but he also knew when to stop.
"I remember his mother coming in one day, kind of worried, and asking me, 'Do you think my Paul will do good?' I told her, 'He'll be successful at whatever he does.' "
Tycholiz's prediction turned out to be true.
Feig attended Wayne State University for two years, then went off to the University of Southern California film school. He eventually landed a job as a script reader for Michael Phillips, producer of Close Encounters of a Third Kind.
After winning $29,000 on the $25,000 Pyramid (he also won some bonus rounds), Feig began pursuing an acting career. He appeared in Heavyweights and That Thing You Do. Then he went on to writing and standup comedy.
Freaks and Geeks is a different sort of high school comedy. The episodes run one hour -- unusual for a sitcom -- and are CO-produced by Judd Apatow, who has worked closely with both Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey.
"We just wanted to do a high school show that actually looked like a high school," Apatow says. "My high school didn't look like any of the shows that are on TV. You know, there was maybe like one gorgeous girl in school, and looking back, she wasn't that hot anyway."
The situations seem real, too: Dodge ball games that become vicious, problems with guidance counselors and the eternal search to fit in.
"I felt all along that we were seeing a void in how high school was portrayed, that people weren't seeing their own experiences," Feig says. "I think we've struck an evocative chord."
5. Freep: Give Freaks Show a Chance to Shine
October 29, 1999
BY MIKE DUFFY
FREE PRESS TV WRITER
Attention, class. We have a homework assignment for the weekend.
Don't moan. This is a piece of eye-candy cake.
All you have to do is watch "Freaks and Geeks," the smart new NBC teen drama that delivers a remarkably evocative and witty portrait of adolescent angst, circa 1980, at a high school in small-town Michigan.
"We're just trying, perhaps to our detriment, to do the most realistic high school show on television. Things don't work out, people don't act the way you want them to act, and teenage emotions screw everything up," series creator Paul Feig explained in a phone interview.
The former Mt. Clemens resident, who based "Freaks and Geeks" on his own admittedly awkward passage through Chippewa Valley High School 20 years ago, happily refers to himself as Head Geek.
Despite rapturous reviews from most TV critics, the low-rated "Freaks and Geeks" (No. 82) is teetering on the brink of big trouble.
The show aired only two times in late September and early October before disappearing while NBC televised playoff baseball and World Series games.
Now "Freaks and Geeks" is finally back with an encore of its superlative series pilot at 9 tonight followed by the first of four straight new episodes in the show's regular 8 p.m. Saturday time slot. That's not exactly the easiest night of the week for an offbeat high-quality drama to find an audience.
"It is deadly, and NBC is trying to figure out where to move us," said Feig. "They said they want to nurture us, but as soon as the ratings go down, they flip out."
Ah yes, nervous network executives. Patience is not their favorite virtue.
But "Freaks and Geeks," which focuses on the lives of earnestly geeky McKinley High School freshman Sam Weir (John Daley) and his intelligent, disillusioned older sister Lindsay (Linda Cardellini, "Boy Meets World"), deserves all the patience and nurturing NBC can muster. It's that good.
Over the next several episodes, Lindsay becomes more and more involved with the freaks. She's swept up in their rowdy Halloween pranks, gets conned into helping someone cheat on a math test and starts to develop a relationship with rock drummer wannabe Nick (Jason Segel).
"It will not go the way the usual 'Dawson's Creek' relationship goes," promises Feig. In fact, "Freaks and Geeks," populated by a group of young performers who look like real people instead of pretty Hollywood poster teens, is the anti-WB high school drama.
That is both its blessing and its curse. "Freaks and Geeks" is a teen drama for adults.
So do your freaky homework, grown-ups. This isn't a Halloween trick. Tune in for a genuine entertainment treat.
Notes from the Captain Video file:
Rejection section: Fox has trashed its entire Friday night lineup, killing low-rated rookie drama disasters "Harsh Realm" (No. 94) and "Ryan Caulfield: Year One" (No. 109), which will be replaced with movies and specials.
Plus, "Time of Your Life," the "Party of Five" spin-off starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, drew a disappointing 7.9 million viewers when it premiered Monday. The silver lining? Hewitt was No. 1 with female teens.
So how does Fox turn that frown upside down? Well, "The X-Files" finally returns for a new season Nov. 7. And "Ally McBeal" did boffo business with its sex-addled third season premiere Monday night, attracting an impressive 16 million viewers. It's even more impressive when you consider the lackluster lead-in from "Time of Your Life."
Maybe Jennifer Love Hewitt should have sex in a car wash.
Extra blah blah: Going, staying: CBS has already pink-slipped the sitcom "Work with Me" while giving a green light to delightful Friday night surprise "Now and Again" for a full-season run.... Lilith Faire: Bebe Neuwirth rocks the "Frasier" cage again when she returns as ultra-snarky Lilith Sternin-Crane for a special Thanksgiving night episode of "Frasier" on Nov. 25. Hold the turkey. NBC prefers roast Peacock.
6. Houston Chronicle: Critics Buzzing About Freaks and Geeks
By ANN HODGES
Copyright 1999 Houston Chronicle
The high school PA system is up and running: All freaks, geeks and assorted class misfits, assemble promptly at 7 p.m. Saturdays in front of your sets tuned to NBC/Channel 2.
Freaks and Geeks, the lone new television entry on Saturdays, has set off a buzz with the critics, and it could start a tidal wave of nostalgia with its good old wallow in the bad old days of high school, 1980.
Two other premieres stepped up Sunday, but we hope you didn't change your TV plans for these. Emmy-winning David E. Kelley turns loser in ABC's Snoops, and The WB's Jack & Jill is just too cute for comfort.
Freaks and Geeks is, by far, the best of this fall's copious crop of TV teen shows.
The cast is talented. These high school kids look like high school kids. They even talk like high school kids, not like the teen-going-on-30 pseudo-sophisticates of Dawson's Creek. And they don't one-up each other in precocious sitcom one-liners, either.
This high school is in Michigan, because that's where creator/executive producer Paul Feig went to high school, and as you'll see in this opening script, every painful moment must be etched in his memory.
Fourteen-year-old John Daley, already a Broadway actor in Tommy, is a heart-tugger as Sam Weir, the wide-eyed, innocent, undersized freshman who'd give anything to be one of the gang, but doesn't know how.
Linda Cardellini is another cast breakout, as Sam's sister Lindsay. She's a junior who was one of the in-crowd until the trauma of her grandmother's death sent her spirits, and her grades, sliding. Now she's circling the school rebels, and wearing her dad's old Army jacket like a signal that she's ready to cross over the line and join the Freaks.
Samm Levine and Martin Starr fit the bill perfectly as Sam's best Geek buddies, Neal and Bill. Neal's the ultimate Star Wars fan, and Bill's the gangly chemistry whiz. They share an isolated table in the cafeteria, and all three quiver when Alan, the school bully, smashes Sam's lunch box Twinkie. To see those three set up to be the bully's targets in a deadly game of PE dodge ball is to quiver with them.
The parents of Sam and Lindsay (played by Joe Flaherty and Becky Ann Baker) don't have a clue to what's going on with their kids. Dad's counsel, guaranteed to clear the family dinner table, is always the same: If Dad doesn't approve of it, it will kill you.
Lindsay's good heart gets her in trouble tonight with the handicapped boy she invites to the school dance, there's a fine scene with the school's too-hip guidance counselor, and sweet Sam and his buddies decide to take a stand against the bully.
Freaks and Geeks shows promise of touching the same common chord that The Wonder Years played so well for the classes of the '60s.
· Snoops (8 p.m. Sunday on Channel 13) is a stumble, big time, for the producer who gave us Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal and The Practice. The irony is, the seasonal premiere of Kelley's Emmy award-winning show, The Practice, follows Snoops tonight, and that's a dandy.
Snoops is a girl detective show -- and I use that word "girl" advisedly. These girls are such Gidgets-with-gadgets, they make Charlie's Angels look like NYPD Blue.
Gina Gershon of the movie Showgirls is the sexy boss-with-attitude of her own gaudy private-eye shop. Paula Marshall of TV's Cupid is the Santa Monica police detective who's on the lam from her police lover, and looking for a new do-it-yourself career. Paula Jai Parker fills out the PI threesome, but she bounces in at the beginning to show her cleavage, then sits the rest of this case out.
The token male is Danny Nucci (Titanic), and he's busy chasing down a wandering husband.
The cinematic style is as tacky and unappealing as Kelley's script: Little blips of action, broken by large blobs of hot primary colors, in snazzed-up, jazzed-up scenes of Los Angeles at night.
If ABC's smart, it will scrub Snoops. If Kelley's smart, he'll be glad.
Jack & Jill (8 p.m. Sunday on Channel 39) is a romantic comedy that tries so hard it almost hurts to see it fall down the hill. Almost.
Amanda Peet is Jack, as in Jacqueline Barrett, a runaway bride whose maid of honor confesses at the altar that she slept with the groom-to-be the night before the wedding.
Jack jumps right in her new red convertible, and drives to New York City with her wedding veil flying in the wind. What she does with the car after she gets there, I can't tell you; it's never seen again.
Ivan Sergei is Jill, as in David Jillefsky, a toy designer who lives in the same apartment building where Jack's old pal, Audrey (Jamie Pressly), now a Broadway chorus girl, has taken her in. And Jack didn't even invite Audrey to her wedding.
When his daughter bolts that wedding, by the way, the comment of Jack's father is, "We should have encouraged her to be a lesbian." And when Jack's mother, who's played by Victoria Principal, comes to take her daughter back home to marry the guy, she confesses that Jack's father has strayed all their married life, and that she's had a fling herself.
Well, anyway, Jill is moving in with Elise Cronkite (Sarah Paulson). But one look at Jack and a long treacly playtime in Jill's toy store, and poor Elise is history.
Or is she?
Imagine the consternation when Jack miraculously gets a job at the same New York TV station where Elise works. And Jack and Elise become instant best friends.
8. San Francisco Chronicle: High School Hell a Lark in Freaks
Set at a Michigan high school in 1980, NBC's ``Freaks and Geeks'' (8 tonight on Channel 4) is a sweet, nearly subterranean view of adolescent life and teen caste systems.
The point is made in the opening sequence. In the bleachers above the school's football field, a jock is breathing heavily and dully with a cheerleader. Searching for livelier material, the camera swings under the bleachers, where a group of freaks rhapsodize about Led Zeppelin.
The camera lingers a bit and then, nearby, discovers several of the schools dreaded geeks -- the inevitable outcasts who live in a constant state of alert because they're the natural prey for bullies.
It's the social strata beneath the jock set that intrigues ``Freaks and Geeks'' creator Judd Apatow (``The Larry Sanders Show''), and he's built one of the season's better shows around them.
The central characters are Lindsay Weir (smartly acted by Linda Cardellini), a sophomore who is gravitating uneasily toward the caustic freak crowd, and her little brother Sam (John Daley), a tiny, unobtrusive kid who is helplessly in with the out crowd, as a geek.
Lindsay (``Is it just me, or does the whole world suck?'') seems estranged from everything -- certainly including her blunderbuss father (Joe Flaherty), who presides at the dinner table with a litany of dead miscreants.
``Know who used to cut class?'' he barks. ``Jimi Hendrix. Know what happened to him? He died!''
Sam has more concrete concerns. With his geeky friends Neal (Samm Levine) and the ungainly Bill (Martin Starr), he's practically snack food for the casual cruelty of bullies and sadistic teachers alike.
Tonight's pilot includes a game of dodge ball, in which a chortling gym teacher sanctions a session of virtual target practice for more aggressive boys to heave balls at the defenseless geeks.
High school injustice is a major theme of the fall TV season, surely in part because programming decisions were being made just about the time of the Columbine High School tragedy last spring.
But most of the high school shows are magnetically attracted to kids who are too cute and too popular. After all, TV feasts on physical beauty and shallow charm.
``Freaks and Geeks'' take a different path. Cardellini and Daley aren't about to crack glass -- their good looks can't be concealed -- but neither of them popped out of the plastic mold of central casting.
They're both appealing performers, in relatively complex roles. When a TV teen can proclaim that the world sucks, and you don't want to roll your eyes and change the channel, you might be onto something good.
9. In with the out crowd
NBC's affectionate "Freaks and Geeks" lets high school nobodys have their day.
By Joyce Millman
Imagine how different TV would be if more writers had been popular in high school. "My So-Called Life" would be "My Life Is the Bomb!" Instead of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," we'd be watching "Cordelia the Prom Queen." And NBC's new "Freaks and Geeks," a show about the cruelest years most of us ever knew, might never have been made.
One of the most promising new series of the fall season, "Freaks and Geeks" is a one-hour comedy-drama that resonates with the pain of a thousand daily humiliations and rejections suffered by the kids at the bottom of the high school pecking order -- the burn-outs, the brainiacs, the heads, the nerds. The premise is nothing new; from "Revenge of the Nerds" to "Daria," the out-crowd has been heroically portrayed as smarter, more sensitive and generally better off than the jocks and the cheerleaders. "Freaks and Geeks" distinguishes itself by the eerie realism of its portrayal of suburban high school life, circa 1980, from the ugly, boring clothes, to the across-the-board wonderful acting to the refreshing lack of narration.
Look, voice-over worked great for "The Wonder Years" and "My So-Called Life," but it's become a cliché. The teens in "Freaks and Geeks" are not looking back, all wistful and wise, at their youth, or reading their most secret diary passages to us. The kids on "Freaks and Geeks" are living in the moment, numb from the trauma of being picked on by bullies, made fun of by the popular crowd and misunderstood by parents and teachers. They don't have the self-awareness to reflect deeply on their lives; they're putting one foot in front of the other, like prison inmates, crossing the days off until their sentence is up.
Co-created by Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, who worked together on "The Larry Sanders Show," and written by Feig, "Freaks and Geeks" opens with director Jake Kasdan's neat, fluid charting of the student hierarchy of McKinley High, a typical, vast school somewhere in Michigan. First, we see a perfect blond cheerleader and football player having one of those "I love you so much it's scary" moments in the deserted bleachers. Then the camera pans down under the bleachers to the freaks, the dope-smoking, class-cutting, heavy-metal-loving kids (mostly guys), deep into a discussion of the aesthetic merits of Molly Hatchet's "executioner" T-shirt. Then the camera swings sideways to the geeks on the fringes, freshman boys so scrawny and nerdy they make Kevin and Paul from "The Wonder Years" look like Dawson and Pacey.
These boys -- Sam, Bill and Neal -- are entertaining each other with their impressions of Bill Murray in "Caddyshack." Suddenly, a bully named Allen appears out of nowhere, to jab Sam (the fragile, wide-eyed John Francis Daly) in the chest and yell ominously, "You're dead!" The geeks spend the rest of the pilot running scared from Allen, his buddies and the sadistic gym teacher who eggs them on (if you don't already have recurring nightmares about high school gym class, the harrowing dodge ball scene will give them to you) until they glean some amusing bully-handling wisdom from a senior-year geek.
Life is a comparative breeze for the freaks -- they've marginalized themselves by choice and it's pretty cool. Or so that's how it looks to sophomore Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini), Sam's older sister. Lindsay is a straight-A "mathlete" who's tired of her good-girl, brainiac image. The recent death of her grandmother has sent her into an existential tailspin and now she's all boredom and sullenness, hiding inside her father's Army jacket with her dark hair in her face (is this what Janeane Garofalo was like as a teenager?). Lindsay spurns her old friends in advanced placement math and starts tagging along with the freaks, to the consternation of her smug hippie guidance counselor and her bombastic dad ("SCTV" legend Joe Flaherty), who imparts gems of parental wisdom that always end in scared-straight hokum: "There was a girl in my school. She had premarital sex. You know what she did on graduation day? Died! Of a heroin overdose!"
Judging from her affecting presence in the pilot, Cardellini's intelligent, rebellious, lost Lindsay may be headed for TV's Teenage Girl Hall of Fame, alongside Angela Chase and Buffy Summers. Lindsay is genuinely kind; she tries to do good, intervening when Sam's being bullied or when jerks make fun of a mentally disabled student. But the adults around her, and even her old friends, can only see her "throwing her life away" by hanging with the freaks. But the freaks understand; Nick (Jason Segal), a cheerful John Bonham-worshipping drummer, tries to show her a way out of her funk by taking her to his garage to see his awesome drum kit and suggesting that she too will find her "reason for living."
Emotionally, the pilot of "Freaks and Geeks" feels just about right -- touching, but not sappy, amusingly off-kilter but not crude. Sure it's nostalgic -- former freaks and geeks are notorious wound lickers, the better to savor their post-high school triumphs. And this affectionate nostalgia, this assumption that viewers have been through what the characters are enduring and come out OK, is the show's greatest strength and weakness. "Freaks and Geeks" depicts its ancient bygone era so well, it's hard to imagine actual teenagers -- freaks or geeks -- tuning in. Which is sad, because now, more than ever, teenage outsiders need to hear the message that there is life after high school. But "Freaks and Geeks" may only really hit home if you're over 30.
salon.com | Sept. 24, 1999
10. Tuned In: Freaks and Geeks Needs Vocal Viewer Support
Thursday, November 04, 1999
By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor
The best new show of the season is in danger of cancellation. It's time to mobilize.
NBC's "Freaks and Geeks" (8 p.m. Saturday) deserves and needs your support.
Before you dismiss it as yet another teen show, understand this: Not all teen shows are created equal. "Freaks and Geeks" is the best of the bunch, and truthfully, it's not aimed at teen-agers. Set at a Michigan high school in 1980, its target audience is people who grew up in the '70s and '80s.
Viewers love to call or write to me about how trashy TV has gotten, and I agree, but then they do nothing to support an inoffensive -- dare I say, moral -- show like "Freaks and Geeks."
In the second episode, freak wannabe Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) got roped into hosting a beer bash when her parents went out of town for the weekend. Her younger geek brother Sam (John Daley) got so concerned he replaced the real beer with non-alcoholic beer. When was the last time you saw that kind of realistic, sincere concern between teen-agers on TV?
In this week's episode Lindsay helps the freak she likes to cheat on a test, only to have it all unravel with her realizing how she's been used. Sam and the geeks take sex ed ("What the hell is that?" Bill says when he sees a diagram of the female reproductive system. "It looks like it's from outer space!") and end up with more questions than answers.
NBC muffed its "Freaks and Geeks" rollout by airing only two episodes and then pre-empting the show for three weeks of baseball. Now it's back with scant promotion to help draw viewers to the tube.
What to do? Letters (not e-mail) are always helpful. Bombard NBC Entertainment president Garth Ancier with pleas for mercy at 3000 W. Alameda Ave., Burbank, CA 91523.
If you already watch and love the show, check out www.freaksandgeeks.com, a Web site that appears to be administered by the show's creators.
Most importantly, watch "Freaks and Geeks" Saturday night, especially if you have a Nielsen meter or a ratings diary in your home. If not for yourself or for the show, do it for this geek.
11. Seattle PI: Sports Night, Freaks Fans- Let's Huddle
Wednesday, March 1, 2000
By JOHN LEVESQUE
POST-INTELLIGENCER TV CRITIC
Campaigns to save "Freaks and Geeks" and "Sports Night" from cancellation are gaining steam as the networks start to get serious about what will and won't be on their schedules next fall.
The lineups for the new fall season aren't decided until mid-May, but devoted fans of the two well-regarded but under watched series know the handwriting on the wall reads: "Don't bet on their being renewed." The signs are as obvious as the nose on my face, which is easier to spot than a network executive with something definitive to say about either show. The evidence:
Episodes of both shows were pulled during the November and February ratings sweeps.
"Sports Night," a sophomore series about the quirky people who run a cable sports program, will end its season April 4, well shy of the May ratings sweep when most shows have their high-profile season finales.
"Freaks and Geeks," a gentle satire of high school cliquishness, has been off the air more than on this season. After a strange launch last fall that featured only a handful of episodes in a dreadful Saturday time slot, NBC shelved it for a January relaunch on Monday nights. That strategy lasted only a few weeks before the show was pulled again and placed on indefinite suspension.
"Sports Night" returned to the schedule last night with little fanfare; NBC says "Freaks and Geeks" will be back March 13. Even though the networks never tip their hands as to whether an acclaimed but low-rated show has a future, the treatment both have received parallels the experiences of other series that have heard warm-and-fuzzy platitudes from the network brass but, in the end, became victims of the scheduler's swift sword.
Anyone interested in rallying behind either show is encouraged to do a little old-fashioned letter writing, because it is generally assumed that e-mail and phone messages don't have the same clout as a personally crafted, handwritten letter. Even typed letters are considered uncool, since it's easy to assume a typewritten plea was photocopied from a master form letter.
Some other tips for fledgling save-our-show activists:
Letters should be friendly, polite and brief. No 12-page term papers; one page is plenty. Also, telling a network kahuna that he or she has the brains of a kumquat isn't a good idea.
Be positive. Give the network credit for putting the show on the air in the first place and for keeping it on the air despite lackluster ratings.
Talk demographics, but be honest. For example, it's helpful if the networks know you're a 45-year-old cummerbund salesman who likes to watch "Freaks and Geeks" with your six teen-agers. Or that you and your spouse are thirty something plaintiffs' attorneys who only have time to watch two TV shows a week, and they happen to be "Sports Night" and "Freaks and Geeks."
Hand-address the envelope, but don't write the title of the show on it. Network minions might toss it without giving it a second look.
Above all, be passionate. Tell the network how the show has touched you emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, whatever.
You can find sample letters on various Web sites, but it's better to use your own words. For details about "Freaks and Geeks," check out http://students.washington.edu/draheim/freaksandgeeks/ For "Sports Night," the Viewers for Quality Television Web site -- www.vqt.org -- has some basic information.
If writing about "Freaks and Geeks," send it to Garth Ancier, president; NBC Entertainment; 3000 W. Alameda Ave.; Burbank, CA 91523. NBC's viewer-relations comment line is 212-664-2333 (select option 3). If you absolutely insist on sending e-mail: Two viable addresses are firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
For "Sports Night," write Stu Bloomberg, co-chairman; ABC Entertainment Television Group; 2040 Avenue of the Stars; Century City, CA 90067. ABC's audience information line is 212-456-7477 (option 4). Send e-mail to Stuart.Bloomberg@abc.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Supporters of "Sports Night" also suggest it might be worthwhile to write NBC and ask it to consider picking up the show if ABC drops it. NBC executives are said to be fond of "Sports Night," which was created by Aaron Sorkin, the same guy who created "The West Wing," one of NBC's most popular new shows.
12. Television: Freaks Show
Two hundred former high-school misfits mourn a beloved program.
BY ROBERT LEVINE
Whoever said history is written by the winners never watched Freaks and Geeks, NBC's bittersweet comedy-drama about burnouts and brains trying to survive a 1980 Michigan high school. Sure, the show about bullied misfits was itself shoved around -- from what creator Paul Feig calls the Saturday-at-8 p.m. "death slot" to Monday nights and, finally, cancellation after twelve episodes. But on a recent Saturday and Sunday afternoon, 200 fans whose memories of high school owe more to Square Pegs than to Fast Times at Ridgemont High packed into a Museum of Television and Radio theater to watch the six hour-long shows that never aired.
Most of those in the auditorium were the kind of smart, shy twenty- or thirtysomethings you'd see at a Pavement concert -- it's safe to say none of them had been captain of his high-school football team. Indeed, Freaks and Geeks won a dedicated following by turning the humiliations of high school -- the wedgies! the swirlies! the towel-snapping savagery of it all! -- into nostalgic comedy without easy answers or upbeat endings. "The show touched on my experiences perfectly -- me and my friends played Dungeons & Dragons," said 33-year-old Keith Lyle. "Things you were embarrassed about, this sort of validates them." One of the few fans to experience high school contemporaneously with the program, a 15-year-old from Woodstock, barely suppressed a sigh when she said the show was "painfully true."
These days, every canceled cult favorite has a Website, but only Freaks and Geeks fans bought a full-page ad in Variety urging another network to pick up the program. Feig, who flew in from Los Angeles at his own expense to speak on Saturday, received a standing ovation. After asking, "How many of the Website people are out there?," he told them their support had helped keep Freaks on the air as long as it was. "Without you," he said, "we could've been Wonderland!"
During a brief Q&A session before everyone settled down to six straight hours of television, a fan asked about Feig's inspiration for a scene in which a character unintentionally streaks through school; Feig replied that the incident was loosely based on a gym-shower "dog pile" he suffered in his own high school. "I was a stand-up comic for years," Feig said later, "and if you tell a story about something terrible that happened to you, it's always funny." Most high-school shows, he said, "are about getting laid. We were too busy getting our asses kicked."
From the May 15, 2000 issue of New York Magazine.
13. Too Good and Weird
The Happy Life and Inevitable Death of Freaks and Geeks
by Robert Lloyd
ON APRIL 27, DAILY VARIETY RAN THIS FULL-PAGE ADVERTISEMENT:
FREAKS AND GEEKS
The fans cared enough to get together and pay for this ad. Now doesn't that speak for itself?
The "Best" Television of 1999
This ad was funded by viewers across North America who feel it is worth their time and money to save this show.
GIVE "FREAKS" A CHANCE!
Barely more than a month before, the National Broadcasting Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of General Electric, had canceled Freaks and Geeks, a TV series of significant critical acclaim and persistently low ratings, in the middle of its first season. If no more than 6 or 7 million viewers tuned in on an average night -- small change in network accounting, but, hey, 6 or 7 million viewers -- they were unusually avid, and all the more so for how difficult it was to determine whether the show, which concerned two groups of socially marginal Midwestern teenagers surviving high school at the dawn of the '80s, would be on from one week to the next. Under the name Operation Haverchuck -- named for Bill Haverchuck, the series' geekiest, and noblest, geek -- fans had banded together online and raised $3,746 to buy the Variety page in hopes of influencing another network to adopt the show.
The cancellation lit up Internet message boards. Dismayed loyal viewers, mostly in their late 20s and their 30s, but into their 60s as well, called it "clever and wonderful," praised its "clarity, accuracy, and honesty" and how it was nice to "for once, see a show about high school that wasn't a soap opera or centered entirely around sex." Now it was gone, and they were pissed off . . . angry and disappointed . . . positively distraught. NBC was the No Brains Channel, Nothing But Crap, and its executives were "maroons," "morons," "empty suits," "@#$! idiots" who "wouldn't know a good show if it smacked them in the face," "if it bit them on their number crunching asses." "Do you have blind chimps making your programming decisions?" one writer asked. "Are you guys high? No more NBC ever again for me after the last episode airs. And I belong to a Nielsen family, so there." Wise to the bottom line, fans offered themselves on an altar of consumerism to any other network willing to pick up the series: "I'm a thirtysomething mom in a six-figure-income household. I am your advertisers' dream consumer." "I am over 35 and I buy stuff. I represent a demographic which could and should be exploited and I encourage you to do so." Schooled by Entertainment Tonight, Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide in the arcana of the business of show, they knew what had gone wrong: Freaks and Geeks needed "a reasonable, permanent time slot," "meaningful promotion, and a little patience from network execs." "Lucky will be the network that picks this up and with that decision will come legions of intelligent viewers who like substance and talent in their shows," wrote a woman named Virginia. "NOT TO MENTION I CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT BILL."
WELL, I'M RIGHT THERE WITH YOU, VIRGINIA. TV'S LIKE that: Because while the audience for a movie or a play understands going in that the story ends in two hours and everyone goes home afterward, the characters on a television series have an open-ended existence and, while they live, they live in infinite real time, they might go on for years, growing older right along with you, like your family, like your neighbors, like yourself. They are family: Your TV Family.
"The reason Cheers was so popular," observes Freaks and Geeks creator and co-executive producer Paul Feig, citing a series that survived a famously slow start to run for a decade, "was not because people love shows about bars, but because that group of people over the years became your friends. When Seinfeld was on" -- another legendary slow starter -- "it was always, like, 'Did you hear what George said last night?' That's the problem with TV now making it so that things have to hit after a few weeks, because it means you have to make friends immediately -- which is why the network wants actors to be beautiful, because you become infatuated with them, and you'll watch week after week because they're beautiful and they're your surrogate boyfriend/girlfriend."
The whole point of Freaks and Geeks, which came onto television in the season of Popular, Roswell, and the continuing rosy, youthful glow of Dawson's Creek and Felicity and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was to repudiate that sort of glossy wish fulfillment and represent the real: a show about kids who looked like and acted like kids, rather than impossibly well-spoken runway models. "I feel like most high school shows are written by guys who go, 'If I knew then what I know now, I would rule,'" says Feig. "Which is bullshit. You'd just get your ass kicked worse. You'd be one-upping the bully with a clever quip, and -- bam!" Jake Kasdan, who directed the pilot and four other episodes, and helped establish the look and feel of the show, developed an aesthetic of "uncosmetic decisions." "The close-ups are looser than you'd expect -- there's a little too much space, and the kids are kind of awkward in the frame -- and we used a very cool palette as opposed to most network dramas, which are very warm, and everyone's incredibly pretty and healthy-looking, so that everyone's cheeks are this vibrant red. Where on Freaks and Geeks everyone's face is sort of like . . . light blue." The producers encouraged improvisation and input from their young players, who were cast, says Paul, "with no criteria other than that we want the most talented, funny, good kids in the world. You see a lot of precocious kids who have been coached by their parents and have all these strange adult mannerisms, but when the kid walks in who is confident enough to just be himself or herself, you immediately go, That's the kid." Some had never acted professionally before, some had never acted at all. In many cases, the creators worked backward, inventing characters to suit the actors they found; by the time the cameras rolled, the pilot had been two-thirds rewritten.
Set in a leafy suburb of Detroit in the 1980-81 school year, the series centered on 16-year-old Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) and her 14-year-old brother, Sam (John Francis Daley), and their attempts to navigate the shoals and shallows, and sometimes sharks, of most anybody's adolescence. "Lindsay is trying very, very hard to grow up," executive producer Judd Apatow has said, "and Sam is trying very, very hard to stay a child," which is about as much of a "situation" as the show ever had. Sidelined by an existential crisis upon the death of her grandmother, honor student Lindsay (the only TV heroine I have ever heard say she doesn't believe in God -- you go, girl) abandons overachievement to hang with slow-track "freaks" Daniel (James Franco), Nick (Jason Segel), Ken (Seth Rogen) and Kim (Busy Philipps); Sam, whose character bore the burden of reliving Paul Feig's peerlessly clueless adolescence, had his own best friends, Neal (Samm Levine) and Bill (Martin Starr), hip-joined in the twilight of childhood and endlessly speculating on what comes next. Becky Ann Baker and SCTV's Joe Flaherty played the senior Weirs. To meet them as a viewer was like making any real-world acquaintance, with first impressions continually revised and complicated by subsequent encounters and deeper knowledge.
The show flirted with type -- the tough bad girl, the sexy bad boy, the stoner, the brain, the doof, the cranky dad -- only to demolish type at every opportunity. "You never quite knew where you were going to go as a character," says Jason Segel, "but it was always going to be interesting." Indeed, the show's seasonal arc was less about developing a narrative, less a matter of gathering force toward a conclusion or cliffhanger, than of enlarging understanding: The arc was inward, you might say, and the series grew richer, and more serious, with each episode -- though it was at the same time extremely, if most often painfully, funny. ä
IT'S LATE MARCH, A WEEK AND A HALF AFTER THE cancellation call, and at the Freaks and Geeks production office at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, the Who and Zeppelin posters are still on the walls, desks are still covered with papers, colored-marker story breakdowns remain unerased from whiteboards, the copiers and printers are still plugged in, and the kitchen has been stocked for at least one more morning with candy bars and cookies, bagels and cream cheese. The staff is due out of the office by the end of April. "Hopefully they'll wash the carpet before new people come in," says Maureen Jennings, the producers' assistant and Web producer.
And yet, though the show is off the air -- in the gentle terms of the television business, it is on "indefinite hiatus" -- with six filmed episodes languishing unseen, it is not yet exactly dead; its spirit still hovers over the body on the operating-room table. The locker-lined halls of McKinley High have been taken from Raleigh Studios to a downtown warehouse in what DreamWorks, which produces the show, is for the moment calling "a fold and hold" -- which is to say, not a "dead strike," which is to say that all hope has not been abandoned that they may yet be of use. Cast members still drop by the office, although often it's on the way to or from an audition for another show. As the days pass, Martin Starr will be cast in an as-yet-untitled Wayne "Newman" Knight pilot, John Francis Daley in the new Geena Davis sitcom, Samm Levine in a project from King of the Hill's Greg Daniels. But everyone remains in touch -- Starr and Seth Rogen are even going to find an apartment together -- and Freaks and Geeks holds an option on their services until June 15. It isn't over until it's over.
Meanwhile, there are still two episodes to finish, music to lay in, sound to mix. The final five were all directed by either Paul, Judd or Jake. Paul wrote and directed the season finale early and out of sequence to be sure of closure in case of early cancellation. Exactly who they are finishing them for besides themselves and the gods isn't exactly clear at this point, though several cable networks have expressed interest in rerunning the completed season. (MTV now seems the likely winner; the Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills is currently staging a marathon showing of the season, which culminates this weekend, May 13 -- which sold out in 15 minutes -- and 14, with the six unaired episodes.) Their best hope is that whoever reruns them will do so well that they'll order new episodes, though neither Paul nor Judd would make a "cheaper" version of the show, which cost about $1.5 million an episode to produce. Their other best hope is that, once networks set their fall slates and realize how crappy all their pilots are, one will discover a hole in its schedule that only Freaks and Geeks can fill. If nothing else, they'll do what they did with "Kim Kelly Is My Friend" -- an episode NBC thought was a little too rough to run -- and send tapes of the unaired shows, which they all agree are some of their best, out into the "unofficial distribution system." Let the bootlegging begin. On this particular afternoon, Judd estimates the chances of new episodes at 20 percent; a week later, he's revised it downward to 8 percent.
Of course, the cancellation even of excellent television series is news strictly of the Dog Bites Man variety. And yet the short, bumpy life of Freaks and Geeks seems to exemplify in a particularly vivid and awful manner much that's gone wrong with network TV, increasingly a place of abbreviated faith, second-guess scheduling and summary execution. The show was given a difficult initial time slot (Saturdays at 8 p.m., sometimes called the "death slot") and limited promotion; was repeatedly pre-empted, for the World Series, the November Sweeps, December just for good measure, and again for February Sweeps (on for two weeks, off for three, on for three, off for eight, on for five, off for four, on for two, and bye-bye); and had the bad luck to have to compete with Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, The American Music Awards and the Mary and Rhoda reunion. And then, when it quite understandably could not find its audience -- nor an audience find it -- and in spite of the intensity of its critical support, it was deep-sixed. (To a number of commentators its future was always in doubt: "Now, in fact, might be a good time to register www.save-f&g.com," Time magazine suggested presciently two and a half weeks before the show debuted.) It may have been the season's best series, but there are no loss leaders in commercial television, because in the adversarial system the broadcast majors have locked themselves into, every half-hour is a hill to take, and every show is an island: The cast of Friends are not about to take a pay cut to subsidize the production of Freaks and Geeks, though you are of course free to suggest it.
At the same time, this is not a typical case at all. Because for all the bad decisions and bad luck, and notwithstanding NBC programming guru Garth Ancier's avowal that he would prefer the characters lead "less depressing lives" and could score "one decent-sized victory per episode" (their victory, responded Apatow, was just to survive with their decency and humor intact), from a creative standpoint it was all just a dream. To say that Paul wrote a script that Judd loved, which Judd took to DreamWorks, where he has a deal to produce and write for TV and films, and DreamWorks brought to NBC (before Ancier moved over from the WB), where they loved it as well and green-lit a pilot on the first draft and a couple of months later okayed the production of 13 episodes, is to barely oversimplify what proved to be an unusually quick and painless process. Except when the Columbine massacre made some executives momentarily nervous over running a show about high school misfits, there was never any corporate drag on the engine, not a mote of network interference, and Paul and Judd were allowed to make exactly the show they wanted to make, with a team of writers and a cast of players who by all accounts loved and respected and were just absolutely blown away by one another as much as anyone ever has been on this green Earth. "I'm proud of every frame of it," says Apatow. They were able for a year to work as artists, to make art, with millions and millions of dollars of NBC's money, and how the hell many people ever get to do that?
LIKE THE PEOPLE THEY WRITE ABOUT, FEIG AND Apatow and Kasdan (who wrote and directed the strange and lovely Sherlock Holmes riff Zero Effect a couple of years back, at the age of 22) are in their work temperamentally creatures of the fringe. Apatow's out-of-the-mainstream previous credits include writing and executive-producing The Ben Stiller Show, which was canceled by Fox after only 12 episodes, and The Larry Sanders Show, which, he says, wasn't even highly rated by the standards of HBO; Feig was barnstorming college campuses with his independent feature Life Sold Separately when, coming within his old orbit, he composed the Freaks and Geeks pilot in a series of Midwestern motel rooms. The words that recur most frequently when they speak of their aims for the series are truth, honesty, reality. Judd and Paul wanted their show to be funny not in the efficient and often mechanical way that sitcoms are funny, but in the messy way that life is funny. Which is to say, they wanted to make it about all the dark, awful stuff they lived themselves. When finishing a show, says Kasdan, Judd and Paul would go through takes "looking for facial tics and little errors to include, and would actually recut the scene so that they can be included in the scene." "Somebody trips or drops something," says Paul, "it's guaranteed to be in."
"Paul's whole thing is the comedy of persecution and humiliation and misery," says Kasdan, "and in fact those are almost completely universal values. Nobody thinks of themselves as a popular person -- even the people who were popular don't tend to remember themselves that way. And the great leap he made early on was that you ä could do a show about people who consider themselves outcasts and it would pertain to almost everyone."
After the pilot sold, the newly assembled writing staff sat in a room and shared teenage war stories; they brought out their old yearbooks and answered questionnaires -- Who was your first girlfriend? Who was the first girl you broke up with? Were you ever caught doing drugs? "It was like group therapy a lot of the time," says Paul. "Within the first two days you knew everything about every person on the staff. It was like, 'My god, that's the worst story I've ever heard, and we have to do it on the show.'" Paul took some pride in being the guy with the most embarrassing stories: the denim-jumpsuit incident, for example (as re-created in the episode "Looks and Books"). He was picked on by bullies because he was tall but wouldn't fight back, was slaughtered in dodge ball, feared showering in gym. He was afraid of girls and all they implied. A reporter once asked him if his high school experience had really been all that horrible. "I like to think it was," he replied.
Paul and Judd have been friends since the mid-'80s, when Paul, who had just left USC film school, and Judd, who had just entered it, both found themselves spending time at the Ranch, a "piece of shit" house in the Valley that was a hangout for standup comics, including Dave "Gruber" Allen, who would later play Mr. Rosso, Freaks and Geeks' not-quite-ex-hippie guidance counselor. Like Sam Weir and his friends, for whom The Jerk and Caddyshack represent the perfection of the cinematic arts, both had been teenage comedy geeks. Paul, who grew up in the Detroit suburb of Mount Clemens ("the biggest small town in Michigan"), was at age 13 so into Steve Martin that he bought a white suit and a microphone "and every night would come home, put on my white suit, put on the Let's Get Small album and pantomime the entire thing into the microphone, for like two years straight. I actually built the arrow, learned how to play the banjo. It was very sad." At 15 he began doing his own material at a Detroit comedy club that most nights operated as a biker bar; his parents had to go along in order for him to get in. After leaving USC, he worked for several years as a standup, then moved into sitcoms (Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The Jackie Thomas Show) and small roles in films. (One, the surprisingly smart Disney summer-camp film Heavyweights, was executive-produced and co-written by Apatow.)
As a teenager on Long Island, Judd also found himself through comedy. "You're writing and directing, and you are the show, and nobody has any power over you," he says. "Especially when you're a lonely kid, it's a way to have a giant group of strangers be nice to you -- though you have to go through so much abuse to finally get to where you learn how to get them to like you." He had a show on his high school radio station for which he interviewed dozens of professional comedians, including Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, John Candy and Garry Shandling (with whom he'd later work on Larry Sanders, and on whose It's Garry Shandling's Show Paul Feig for one season had a recurring role). "That was an incredible education, because they would tell me, 'It'll take you this many years to develop your character, this is how you do open-mike nights, here's how you write a joke.' So I had this game plan in my head: I'm 17 -- if I do comedy for 10 years I'll hit when I'm 27 -- and I came out here and tried to execute the plan. What I didn't know was I wasn't that good at it." And so he retired, though not before sharing an HBO young-comedians special with Ray Romano and Janeane Garofalo, and became a writer, and then a producer. When he got his deal at DreamWorks, he let Feig, whom he'd always thought of as "hilarious and one of the good guys," know that he was looking for material, and in October 1998 Paul sent him the script he'd written in those Midwest motel rooms.
SHOOTING ON THE SERIES BEGAN IN AUGUST OF 1999; by mid-September the first reviews were in, and they were all excellent. Time called Freaks and Geeks "the best fall drama aimed at any demographic," Rolling Stone thought it "stunningly funny and moving" and Talk "a minor vérité masterpiece." The September 25 premiere did well enough -- better demographically than any NBC premiere had done in that spot since 1991 -- that the word hit was tentatively applied, but the next week was not nearly so well attended, and after that the clouds of doom never really dispersed. In another context -- on the WB, say, or on HBO, the show would have been, even on a bad week, accounted a success -- The Sopranos' audience was not significantly bigger -- but NBC's bottom line is notched higher, and Freaks and Geeks had the distinction of being its lowest-rated show. And yet the signals from the network were always mixed. A time change in January from Saturday night to Monday seemed like a vote of confidence, and Apatow was able to get NBC to okay more episodes at midseason. But they only ordered four out of a possible "back nine," and that didn't seem like confidence at all.
After four weeks off the air, Freaks and Geeks was set for its third and final "re-launch" on March 13. Apatow tried unsuccessfully to shake loose some more promo time from the network, which was more concerned with pushing midseason replacements Daddio, Battery Park and God, the Devil and Bob (the last two of which have also since been canceled). On the Friday before, Variety reported that NBC had renewed Third Watch, The West Wing and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, each of which averaged an audience about twice the size of Freaks and Geeks'. (The network's other new hourlong show, Cold Feet, had already been axed.) Paul sent critics tapes of the finale, "Discos and Dragons" -- not scheduled to air until the end of April -- because, as he prophetically wrote, "If you don't tell people we exist, no one will see it but you."
That Saturday, the Museum of Television and Radio, as part of its annual William S. Paley Television Festival, devoted an evening to the show. Except for James Franco, who was out promoting a movie, all of the main cast were onstage at the Directors Guild, along with Judd, Paul and Jake; several supporting players were in the audience as well. They screened "I'm With the Band," which Judd had directed and in which Paul had a cameo, and the makers met their audience, who showered them with love and support and wanted to know what NBC's problem was. "Judd and Paul had said from the beginning, half-jokingly, that it was all for the museum," says Jason Segel. "Once we got there it seemed like that would have been fine with me, too. It was filled with fans, and just being with the whole group of people while we watched the episode, it felt like a real family."
The family feeling continued through the next night's wrap party -- "a big happy sad convention of everyone who had ever worked on the show," as Martin Starr recalled it. The American Legion Hall on Highland Avenue was decorated as if for a 1980s prom, with a professional prom photographer shooting couples against a sky-blue backdrop, and a surprise cap-and-gown graduation ceremony for Levine, Starr and Rogen, all of whom were finishing real-world high school. There were yearbooks to sign, and karaoke. Judd sang his standard "Spinning Wheel," and Paul did "Viva Las Vegas," and they slow-danced together while Busy Philipps and Linda Cardellini, the latter in a blond wig and her mother's ä own prom dress, sang "Wind Beneath My Wings."
A week later, Paul's mother died suddenly.
And the night after that, after a week in which the show received a total of one minute and 20 seconds of promotion, NBC ran Freaks and Geeks for the last time, the episode "Chokin' and Tokin'," in which Bill Haverchuck's peanut allergy puts him in a coma and Lindsay gets paranoid on pot. Some of the cast came by the office to watch the show. "It got to that montage of her rolling a joint," recalls Jake Kasdan, who was there working late cutting the last episode, "and I had this grim flash that this is not going to last, I could just see people all over the country going, 'Huh?' And the scene where Sam and Neal are sitting in the hospital hallway having the conversation about what if Bill died, would he be a ghost and hang out with us, and it ends with Sam saying, 'He'd just be dead and gone, wouldn't he?' Great moment, total Feig -- just this simple presentation of the strongest ideas in the world, in plain English exactly the way kids encounter those ideas. As we were watching the show that night, I just had this feeling, like, this show is too good and weird to be on the air."
Notwithstanding a slight improvement in the numbers, Freaks and Geeks was history by noon the next day. Judd got the news from Shelley McCrory, NBC's head of comedy development, then called Paul at his father's accountant's office, where he was settling his mother's affairs.
Then Garth Ancier called, Judd remembers, "and I'm screaming and half crying and saying every single thing I ever wanted to say to him in one phone call. And he's a hard person to talk to, because he's one of those people who does not confront you, so you could say anything and he'll just go [sympathetically] 'Yeah, I know, yeah.' So it's no fun even to let it all go. He sounds like he's made that call a thousand times, he may have made that call three times that day. For all I know he's on a speakerphone and there's someone else in the room and they're giggling -- I know it doesn't bother him. So it's just a terrible moment, because you also know that he's a guy that in his own way supported the show, and there's a much larger political process that has to do with affiliates, and GE, and you don't know if he has anything to do with it. I doubt he woke up one morning going, 'We must get rid of Freaks and Geeks.' But he's the guy you have to talk to. And then you feel terrible the next day that you lost your mind on the phone. But then you do it again to [West Coast NBC president] Scott Sassa the next day, 'cause you can't stop yourself."
They had to reach Linda Cardellini, who was flying to New York to appear on Late Show With David Letterman. When they told her the show had been canceled, she said, "They canceled David Letterman?" The news didn't hit her until "I was actually on, and David kind of touched my hand, and I looked over and went, 'Woah, that's David Letterman,' and then he said, 'I'm sorry to hear about the show.' And hearing David Letterman say 'Sorry' before I'd even told my family, I sat there and I was like, 'Ohhh, it's ohhhhkay.' It made it real at that point."
A DEATH IN THE FAMILY, THE TV FAMILY. I phoned Shelley McCrory at NBC for an official autopsy.
"This was a different kind of show for us," she said, "and when we launched it on Saturday, it was to get a sense of what it was going to be. And we loved the episodes we saw, and that was what drove the move to Monday, and we had a really spectacular re-launch there.
"Unfortunately, it did not help us to have [the Monday-night re-launching] clobbered by ABC with Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, and in the weeks that followed it was difficult for us to get traction. We did promote the show, and I think the quality of promotion was excellent. Do I wish we promoted it more? Of course. I don't think there's a producer on this network or any other that believes that they get enough promotion, but there's a finite amount to go around, and you do the best you can. Certainly there's never an intention to not give a show enough promotion.
"The show does have a loyal audience. Unfortunately the numbers it was doing were not numbers we could live with. That was very painful to accept. Everyone here really struggled; everyone here loved the show. But we weren't seeing the growth that we needed to see. And the thing that has made it somewhat bearable for me was that when we made the decision to pull the show, Scott Sassa was immediately on the phone with Judd Apatow spitballing ideas to find it a new home. I personally got on the phone to Fox and the WB. I can't think of a time when we made such proactive efforts to help a show find a new home. Nobody here wants to see this show just go away. But we have a very important business responsibility that we have to always keep in mind. We have to stay competitive; at the end of the day, that's the business that we're in."
And that's it, of course: It's just business. "For all my conspiracy theorizing," says Jake Kasdan, "the truth of it is it's probably a very simple sentence that's mostly numbers. Part of that is that we weren't handled in the best possible way, obviously, and part of it is that we were unrelenting from day one about the reality we wanted to depict. And that was partially in response to being turned off by what's on television. And so how surprised can we be, at the end of the day, when that audience that likes those shows sort of sends a message? Certainly ours is a show people liked, there's no question about that anymore. But when you look at the shows the whole country loves, they're nothing like this."
So: What have we learned? Well, Busy Philipps, sounding as tough as the character she played, learned that "Television is run by rich white men who are told what to do by rich white men, who want a formula to sell the most soap." Martin Starr has come to believe that "If ever I do get on a good show again, a really good show like Freaks and Geeks, it's probably not going to make it again. I've kind of lost hope in television management, because there's a lot of crap out there; they shoved it down the American people's throats, and now everyone's kind of used to it, everyone kind of likes it now, just because they've had to watch it for so long."
What have Paul and Judd learned? Hopefully . . . nothing. There is still some small, small chance that Freaks and Geeks will go on, but whatever happens, whatever they do together again, one would prefer them to make the same mistakes next time, to try for more than the medium asks of them, to make the honest even if uncommercial choice. So they skimp on the victories -- so what? Isn't there more to life than winning? When was Lucy Ricardo ever victorious? When was Ralph Kramden? It had a short life and a bumpy one, but it was something to be proud of, after all.
14. Seattle Times: How about it, Fox? Give `Freaks and Geeks' a chance
Melanie McFarland / Times Staff Columnist
Are you there, Fox? It's me, Melanie.
Fox, before we go any further, I just want to thank you for finally killing off "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Party of Five." Bless you. Now I can get rid of my Tori Spelling voodoo dolls.
Now that you have a spare room, why not invite "Freaks and Geeks" over to join the party?
You know they deserve a chance. Think back to high school. Admit it, you were geeks. Nerds. Burnouts. Whatever you call it, you never forget that feeling of rejection. Sure, all you execs are rich and popular now, but we both know I can dig up some pretty awful pictures of you guys.
Well, that insecure feeling you've since managed to mask is still fresh for fans and creators of the canceled show "Freaks and Geeks." NBC condemned it to a horrible slot on Saturday nights, yanked it, then re-introduced it without much fanfare on Monday nights, where it was trounced by ubergeek Regis Philbin.
"It could not be more personal," said Judd Apatow, executive producer of "Freaks and Geeks." "Almost every story, in some form, happened to one of the writers on our staff. So they're not just canceling your show. They're canceling your life." I'd say that's worse than a wedgie.
In response, fans around the nation have banded together to form Operation Haverchuck. Tomorrow Operation Haverchuck will run a full-page ad in Variety, urging you and other networks to consider giving "Freaks and Geeks" another home and another season. Apatow estimated the show was on the air for only 12 episodes here and there. People couldn't follow the storylines, so it was hard to get hooked.
You wouldn't do that to the show, would you, Fox? Heck, I remember the way you suckled "Party of Five" until it could stand on its own. "Freaks" is worth nurturing.
Though the show was set in Michigan's William McKinley High School in 1980, its issues were timeless and hit home with all ages. Neal Schweiber, Bill Haverchuck and Sam Weir, the geeks, struggled to fit. Sam's sister, Lindsay, and her boyfriend, Nick Baron, tuned out with the rest of the freaks.
More than a high-school story, though, "Freaks and Geeks" was about the pain of living. Betrayal. Abandonment. Recognizing and railing against mortality - this was the heavy stuff "Freaks and Geeks" addressed through the eyes of its high schoolers.
Garrett Krnich, a film studies student at the University of California, Berkeley, believes "Freaks and Geeks" could have been a history-making hit if NBC gave it a chance. "It speaks to this overall concept of life. These specific erosions and things we deal with at any level in our lives, whether we're 7 or 50 or whatever," the 21-year-old said.
In addition to the Variety ad, Krnich and his Haverchuck co-founder, Cindy Kopecky, are appealing to museums to air a retrospective of its 18 episodes, which the New York Museum of Broadcasting is now doing. All of this comes at a crucial time: During the first two weeks of May, networks make their decision about which shows they want for fall.
Time is running out, Fox. Several of the actors have been picked up for other shows. Even good ol'e Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr) is making a pilot with Wayne Knight for the Turners. All are still under contract with "Freaks and Geeks," so if the show gets picked up, they're obligated to stick with it.
Step up to the challenge, Fox. Think of how great this show would be with "Malcolm in the Middle" and "That '70s Show." I know you don't care much about us critics - we're still geeks to you. Hear the fans, then. Amen.
Phew! Now that that's out of the way, are you there, WB? It's me, Melanie. To join the effort to save "Freaks and Geeks," log on to http://www.haverchuck.org or http://www.freaksandgeeks.com .
Geeky Melanie McFarland can be reached at 206-464-2256.
Copyright © 2000 The Seattle Times Company
15. Fans of 'Freaks' launch effort to rescue show
April 24, 2000
BY MIKE DUFFY
FREE PRESS TV WRITER
It's not a completely lost cause. Not quite.
But Holland resident Cindy Kopecky knows the chances of "Freaks and Geeks" being saved from cancellation oblivion are slimmer than Bill Haverchuck's waist.
Haverchuck, the skinny, gawkily awkward geek played by Martin Starr in the smart, heartfelt and very funny high school drama. "Freaks and Geeks," created by former Mt. Clemens resident Paul Feig, was given the cruel heave-ho by NBC in mid-March.
"Realistically, the chances of these save-the-show campaigns succeeding aren't that high," admits Kopecky, 31. The devoted "Freaks and Geeks" fan, a partner in a computer consulting firm, is heavily involved in efforts to save the series.
"I just wanted to help bring recognition to the creators and the cast and this great show," says Kopecky.
"We didn't want to let it go down without a fight." That brings us to www.haverchuck.org.
That's on-line headquarters for Operation Haverchuck, the feisty campaign to save "Freaks and Geeks" and shower a little more love, affection and recognition on the show.
The series suffered severe ratings meltdown, ranking a lowly No. 112 for the season and averaging about 6.7 million viewers a week from September to March. But it also struck a major emotional chord with the people who actually managed to find it -- despite NBC's pitifully erratic scheduling.
Operation Haverchuck has already collected enough money from fans to run a full-page "Give 'Freaks and Geeks' a Chance" ad in the April 27 edition of Daily Variety, the Hollywood trade paper.
And now it is undertaking a final media mail blitz, targeting executives at Fox, ABC, WB and HBO with impassioned pleas to give "Freaks and Geeks" new life and a second season. Network executive names and addresses for either e-mail or snail mail can be found at www.haverchuck.org.
Even though "Freaks and Geeks" may soon fade away, Kopecky is glad she got involved in Operation Haverchuck. For a little while, she says, television did more than simply entertain. It touched the heart, too.
" 'Freaks and Geeks' allows you to relive those painful (high school) days and look back and laugh," says Kopecky. "It's sweet, honest and true."
16. Give "Freaks" a chance
Why is NBC keeping its endearing high school comedy in detention?
By Joyce Millman
March 6, 2000
The networks have started (allegedly) freshening their schedules with a bunch of spring replacement shows. But listen to me and listen good: You don't get to watch any of them -- not "Grapevine," not "Titus," not "Wonderland," not "God, the Devil and Bob," not even Malcolm in the frickin' Middle -- until you give the current season's most pathetically unwatched great show a fair shot.
I'm talking about "Freaks and Geeks," which returns to NBC March 13 for what could be its last stand. Watch this transcendent one-hour comedy about high school kids trying to figure out where they fit in and you will experience the painful laughter of recognition. And you will fall in love with the show's motley crew of nerds, stoners, brainiacs and confused souls and you will say, "How come nobody told me this was so awesome?" And I will gently remind you that I (and every other TV critic in the country) have been telling you exactly that since September. You could have listened. But, no.
Created by Judd Apatow and Paul Feig (both were writers for "The Larry Sanders Show"), "Freaks and Geeks" is set in a suburban Michigan high school circa 1980 and focuses on two groups of fringe kids -- the dope-smoking, class-cutting, disco-sucks freaks and the "Star Wars"-crazy, picked-on, hopelessly uncool geeks. If you think you've seen this all before, you haven't.
"Freaks and Geeks" is a voiceover-free zone; there's no wistful "Wonder Years" philosophizing or moony "My So-Called Life" introspection. Nor do the kids mouth slick and dirty Fox-type punch lines or pose like WB pinups. "Freaks and Geeks" is a rare (and probably suicidal) combination of low hype and high IQ. The show revolves around situations that get away from the characters and it's very, very funny. But sometimes it can break your heart, too, like in the episode where one of the freshman geek boys comes to school wearing a ridiculous new jumpsuit and he thinks he looks so cool walking down the corridor, but then he slowly realizes that everyone is laughing at him and his eyes start to register panic.
But what's so special about "Freaks and Geeks" is its understated tone of quiet absurdity and the natural, unforced way its remarkable cast conveys the inner turmoil of the worst, most exhilarating years of their characters' lives. If you haven't been watching, you're going to need to know who these characters are, so here goes. And there will be a pop quiz on this later.
Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) Sophomore Lindsay is at an emotional crossroads. She's bored with being the good little straight-A "mathlete" (she was the star of McKinley High's competitive math team) and wants to walk on the wild side with the freaks. But their lack of ambition and direction scares her. A born rebel, Lindsay hates the idea that her parents have her whole life mapped out for her. And she kind of enjoys it when she hears rumors about how she supposedly "did it" with her freak (ex-)boyfriend, Nick. But she's also been brought up to be kind, hard-working and honest, and old habits die hard.
Daniel Desario (James Franco) Imagine the Fonz crossed with Jordan Catalano from "My So-Called Life." Dumb as a post, but a leather-jacketed fox, Daniel is the source of endless schemes having to do with party crashing and the procurement of beer. They always backfire.
Kim Kelly (Busy Phillips) Daniel Desario's tough girlfriend, from a dysfunctional home. She gives Lindsay a hard time, but she secretly admires her for being so smart and nice. The subject of countless rumors, Kim wears her scarlet "S" (for slut) with (slightly wounded) pride.
Nick Andopolis (Jason Segel) Lindsay's extremely mellow ex. Nick used to be on the basketball team, but was kicked off when he got caught with a bag of dope in his locker. Plays drums in the Freaks' group Creation and worships John Bonham. He wooed Lindsay by sending her a single red rose and inviting her over when his parents were out of town. She assumed he was going to want to have sex; instead, he took the opportunity to pledge his love by serenading her with Styx's "Lady." They never did it.
Ken Miller (Seth Rogan) The deadpan freak with the mutton-chop sideburns and disgusting lack of manners. Ken is known for his vicious sarcasm and his disdain for, well, everyone and everything. Has never had a girlfriend. What a surprise.
Sam Weir (John Daley) Lindsay's younger brother. A freshman, Sam is small and skinny with a bad early-'80s shag hairdo. He loves "Star Wars" and "Saturday Night Live." Recently suffered his first broken heart when cheerleader Cindy Sanders told him she liked him, but only as a friend. Actually, what she said was that she could talk to him about anything because he was like a sister to her, but let's give the poor kid a break. He's still his mom's baby.
Neal Schweiber (Samm Levine) Sam's buddy. Neal is a wisecracking kid who dresses like he's prematurely 40. He comes from a sophisticated upper-middle-class Jewish home; his father is a dentist, his mother plays tennis a lot. A student of comedy, Neal regales his friends with imitations of William Shatner, Sammy Davis Jr. and Bill Murray in "Caddyshack." Finances various geek schemes by dipping into his bar mitzvah money.
Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr) Amazingly uncoordinated, fascinated with conspiracy theories, his eyes magnified behind snappy aviator glasses, Bill looks like the love child of Gilda Radner's Lisa Loopner and Richard Belzer. He lives with his divorced mom, is allergic to everything and thinks jokes about bodily functions are really funny. He dressed up as the Bionic Woman for Halloween.
To that roster, you can add Lindsay and Sam's grouchy dad Harold ("SCTV" legend Joe Flaherty), their mom Jean (Becky Ann Baker), who yearns for her kids to need her again, and Mr. Rosso (Dave "Gruber" Allen), the hippie guidance counselor who has made it his personal mission to set Lindsay back on the straight and narrow. Laid-back, long-haired Mr. Rosso is an indelible bozo, the archetypical guidance counselor/narc; he's always subjecting Lindsay to his own "Scared Straight" confessions about how he ended up with herpes, or got beat senseless in an alley in Tijuana. In Mr. Rosso's finest hour, he herded Lindsay and her freak pals into his office for a "rap session," punctuating the discussion by pulling out an acoustic guitar and singing Alice Cooper's "Eighteen" with some p.c. lyric additions: "I'm a boy (or girl) and I'm a man (or wo-man) ..."
Lindsay's reactions to Mr. Rosso's lectures are usually halfway between open-mouthed incredulity and unabashed disgust. But you can see why he expends so much energy on her. Lindsay is the most endearingly, believably mixed-up teenage girl on TV. Wrapped in a ratty Army jacket with her brown hair hiding her intelligent, heart-shaped face, Lindsay is trying to find her own way in the world, a place somewhere between her parents' expectations and the dead-end lives she fears her friends are headed for. She usually succeeds and fails at the same time.
In one episode, for example, she's goaded by the freaks into "borrowing" her parents' car for a joyride and then gets into an accident. She feels so guilty when she sees her parents' profound disappointment -- and feels so betrayed when the freaks laugh it all off -- that she cleans up her act and re-joins the math team. But she has nothing in common with her old mathlete friends anymore, and, to confuse matters further, the freaks prove to be good friends after all, showing up at the math meet to cheer her on. Lindsay realizes that she doesn't have to choose between being a freak or a geek; she can just be herself.
But she also realizes that being herself is the hardest path of all, especially when those misleading high school labels -- freak, geek, mathlete, slut -- keep getting in the way. In the show's brilliant opening-credit sequence, set to Joan Jett's shrug of bad-girl defiance "Bad Reputation," the characters take turns sitting for their school photos, but the camera keeps flashing when they're not ready. They're caught off guard. The faces that will appear in their yearbooks are not the faces they wanted to show the world; like those labels, they'll just be one more misrepresentation of their true selves.
And the kids aren't the only ones here whose identities are works in progress; Harold and Jean Weir are having trouble adjusting to their roles as parents of teenagers. Harold's perpetual grimace is like a cartoon thought balloon reading, "What do I do now?" Jean's inability to let go is comical and poignant; in the Halloween episode, she's crushed when Lindsay blows off their annual mother and daughter candy-dispensing ritual to go hang with her friends. But Jean perks up when Sam announces that he still wants to go trick-or-treating even though he's in ninth grade. At least she still has one little bird in the nest! I suppose parental angst is not the sexiest way to sell a show about teenagers, but "Freaks and Geeks" gets it absolutely right.
The broadcast history of "Freaks and Geeks" (chronicled by creators Apatow and Feig on their Web site; they've earned their tone of bitter exasperation) eerily mirrors the social Darwinism of high school itself. When the show premiered in September, NBC stuck it in the geekiest of time slots, Saturday night at 8. Then it was pushed off the air completely by the jocks (NBC was airing baseball playoffs) and the popular kids (November sweeps programming). NBC moved "Freaks and Geeks" to Mondays in January, where the ratings improved, but not enough; it was yanked off the air again after it failed to beat the "Mary and Rhoda" movie in the first week of February sweeps. Hey, that's the way to build an audience! There are eight unaired episodes of "Freaks and Geeks" remaining; the March 13 show is "Garage Door," in which Neal is devastated when Sam uncovers evidence that Dr. Schweiber, the coolest dad they know, is having an affair. If you care even a little bit about this series, let NBC know.
Now for that pop quiz: A.) What's the name of Daniel Desario's girlfriend? B.) How many times did Lindsay have sex with Nick? C.) Who did Bill dress up as for Halloween? D.) Why is NBC always tossing this inventive, sincere, appealing series into detention, but giving empty-headed kiss-ups like "Stark Raving Mad" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" an unlimited hall pass?
Answers: A.) Kim Kelly. B.) Zero. C.) The Bionic Woman. D.) Because life, like high school, isn't fair.
salon.com | March 6, 2000
17. Geek love
Fans rally to save "Freaks and Geeks."
By Andy Dehnart
Forget petitions. Like the "Roswell" fans who sent thousands of bottles of Tabasco sauce to critics and TV network officials, fans of the coming-of-age-in-the-'80s comedy drama "Freaks and Geeks" are taking a decidedly activist role to try to save the acclaimed freshman drama. After giving "Freaks" a terrible Saturday night slot, where it had to compete with playoff baseball during its opening weeks, then moving it midseason to Mondays, NBC axed the show in March because of low ratings.
In response was born the fan consortium Operation Haverchuck, named after one of the show's bespectacled geeks. The group's sole purpose is to get another network to pick up the show. "NBC has made it very clear that 'Freaks and Geeks' is unwanted," says Haverchuck co-founder Garrett Krnich. Organizer Cindy Kopecky adds that the group is raising money to place an ad in Daily Variety that they hope will "show the [other] networks that despite what NBC and the Nielsen ratings say, there is support and an audience for 'F&G.'"
The ad campaign was conceived by Krnich, a 21-year-old film student at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who got the idea from "Roswell" fans. Of the $3,950 needed for a 40-inch Daily Variety ad, Operation Haverchuck has received $3,300 in pledges, and has collected about half of that. "It's been neglected," said the mockup copy for the ad. "It's been denied promotion, a solid timeslot, and a network that cares. It needs your help. Consider 'Freaks and Geeks' for your lineup today."
The ad is scheduled to run April 26, which would coincide with the New York Museum of Broadcasting's presentation of all 18 "Freaks and Geeks" episodes. In case the industry and media don't catch on to the irony of a canceled show's being honored by the Museum of Broadcasting, Operation Haverchuck is also planning a simultaneous media blitz.
Fans are being asked to shower the media -- and then the networks -- with e-mail, letters and peanuts. (Bill Haverchuck almost died from an allergic reaction to peanuts in one episode.) The goal is for "1,000 fans to each send five letters to each target network," which -- using the "1,000 letters equals 1,000,000 fans" formula -- equals 5 million "Freaks and Geeks" supporters. Organizer Elijah Green says the campaign coincides with the time of year the networks are determining their fall schedules, and he's confident that if the show gets picked up, it "will be a big hit for another network."
If "Freaks and Geeks" doesn't find a new home, it won't be for a lack of trying. As Krnich says, "Whether it will help, I don't know. But does that completely matter? The ad is going to be amazing simply on the grounds that so many fans pulled together and said, 'Hey, we want to say something. Together.' As somebody once pointed out to me, hundreds of television shows disappear without a whimper. It's doubtful anybody will be able to say that about 'Freaks and Geeks.'"
salon.com | April 20, 2000
18. Bring Back 'Freaks and Geeks'
By Stephanie Frank
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 7, 2000; Page C04
I do not watch much television. In fact, I often wear a T-shirt that reads, "Kill Your TV." So it was an honor for the show when I pledged to give up one hour a week to view "Freaks and Geeks." That was until NBC pulled the plug on the comedy-drama that had found its home Mondays at 8 p.m.
It's 1980 in a small Michigan town for "The Freaks": Lindsay (Linda Cardellini), Daniel (James Franco), Kim (Busy Philipps), Nick (Jason Segel) and Ken (Seth Rogen), and "The Geeks": Lindsay's younger brother Sam (John Francis Daley), Neal (Samm Levine) and Bill (Martin Starr). The show revolves around the trials and tribulations of these teens at high school, at home and with the pop culture that defined the bridge between the '70s and the '80s.
The show has many things going for it:
Original, well-written scripts. This is the most important element to any quality work. A team of 11 writers pen tight scripts, which reflect the era well without using cliched symbols. For example, when The Geeks attended a sci-fi convention, Bill dressed as Dr. Who while Sam and Neal were "Star Wars" characters. Had this been your typical show and writers, they all would have all been something out of "Star Wars."
A fresh, talented ensemble cast. Not only do they work well together, but the teenagers actually pass as high school students. Hit shows like "Dawson's Creek" feature actors who look their ages--and that's too old to make me think they attend high school.
Critical acclaim. TV Guide called it one of the best new shows of the season.
A devoted, cultlike following. Upon its cancellation I was amazed at the outpouring of support from fans across the nation expressing displeasure on the Internet. I found in my inquiry of people of all ages that those who saw the show could not believe it had been canceled.
Then why has it been given the hook?
Many, including myself, blame NBC. The show originally aired on Saturdays at 8 p.m. After the number of viewers fell drastically with each subsequent airing, the show was put on hiatus and reappeared on Mondays at 8. After the onset of the game show craze, it was again pulled, this time in favor of "Twenty One." The show returned to the air again on March 13 for a couple weeks and then was "indefinitely pulled" by NBC. The status still stands and the creators are shopping around, trying to find a home for the five completed episodes they are determined to share with their fans.
Throughout this rearranging, NBC failed to efficiently promote the show and its move to a different night. Devoted fans found it, but casual watchers were lost.
If television viewers remember, ABC's "The Practice" was met with high critical acclaim, but not much viewer support when pitted against NBC's "ER." After moving the show a couple of times, it became a hit and Emmy winner. Possibly Fox's move of "That '70s Show" to Monday nights hurt "Freaks and Geeks," since the shows appeal to the same audience.
Others, however, tend to blame the viewers, saying the show was too ambitious.
"I think the fact that it was canceled illustrates what the show was trying to prove--our society is too damn centered on pretty people," said Sean Puglisi, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville.
He has a point. The aforementioned "Dawson's Creek," and a slew of others, feature attractive people who seem perfect, but have weekly adversity to overcome. "Freaks and Geeks' focuses on ordinary people labeled with derogative terms because they do not live up to the "Dawson's Creek" folks' standards. Does the public at large not want to see on television what they experience or experienced?
The following of "Freaks and Geeks" transcends age. The show draws in a wide range of viewers from those that were the characters in school, to the parents of those people, to adults at the time, to nostalgic teens who remember Atari, to even today's teenagers who find something to relate to.
Given a fair shot with appropriate promotion this show will flourish. The creators are looking into the possibility of airing the show on another network.
Stephanie Frank is a junior at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring.
19. TV Show Review:'Freaks and Geeks'
If you're like me (and I know I am), you've watched the popular "teen dramas" such as "Dawson's Creek" and thought to yourself, "That's absolutely nothing like my high school years."
Weren't there supposedly overweight students and kids with pimples when I went to high school? And I don't remember making so many snappy remarks or my life resembling a soap opera.
Most peoples' high school experience was much more like "Freaks and Geeks."
Even though it takes place in the 1980s, the themes are universal. The characters on this show, for once, make realistic choices and the laughs here are genuine and not at all contrived. The acting, writing and direction makes most of those other shows look even more juvenile.
Here is the part where I would normally implore you to tune in for yourself Monday nights at 8 on NBC, but you'll have to wait until March 13 for that. It seems that the ratings aren't nearly competitive enough for February, even though it was moved from Saturdays to Mondays.
Instead, the folks at NBC are showing the new "Twenty-One," which would only be interesting if it were rigged.
"Freaks and Geeks" is the kind of show you point to when people complain that there's nothing good on TV.
It's a one-of-a-kind show, and it would be a shame to see it go so soon.
Originally published in Vol. 91, Issue No. 18, February 24, 2000.
20. THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE…Not about aliens, but "Freaks and Geeks"(c) D.V.L. Spencer, 1999
Has anyone ever really seen a show or film that depicted teenage life with even remote accuracy? It's a very rare occurrence, in my experience. So rare, that I usually avoid the genre altogether because I don't want to set myself up for disappointment. The fictional schools are always located in unbelievably wealthy areas, where the spring dance is held in a ballroom-size gym, with $50,000 worth of decorations and professional dancers. Prom takes place outdoors, with caterers in tuxes, a full carnival in the background, and a live band that has a number one single currently on the charts. The numerous individuals you come across in high school are reduced to appalling stereotypes-- mindless bully jocks, blonde airhead cheerleaders, and super strange unpopular kids who wear Star Trek uniforms to school and carry iguanas on their shoulder. Not that these types don't exist; they're just not the only ones to roam the high school hallways.
Enter "Freaks and Geeks", the NBC Saturday night show depicting high school life in 1980. Out of the barrage of teen shows this fall season, this one grabbed my attention because it looked so real. The setting doesn't have that bright, highly glazed Hollywood look. And the kids look like kids, not 27-year-olds in designer "teen" clothes. (Research led me to the fact that a few of the actors are past their teen years, but as long as they look the part, I'm not going to quibble.)
The first episode lived up to my highest expectations. They hit the mark on so many plot points, it's probably impossible for me to cover them all here. The story is split between the experiences of Sam Weir, freshman geek, and his older sister Lindsay, a straight-A student who is trying to work her way into the tougher crowd. Sam is a sweet, fresh-faced kid who has a crush on a cheerleader and a problem with the resident bully. Lindsay's trying to make a move from one group to another, and finds herself really belonging to neither.
One thing I liked was how the show stayed true to the characters. Lindsay starts to cut class and hang out with the smokers outside the cafeteria, but you can sense how nervous it all makes her. She doesn't have the irreverent attitude the others have. When they mention shoplifting, she bursts out with a story about how her dad caught a shoplifter in his store once. When one of the boys suggests a plan for disobeying her parents, she is forced to confess: "I can't lie to my dad." And she sticks by it.
The parents are portrayed as a bit clueless for comedic effect, but it does have its moments. Whenever Lindsay gets in trouble, or mentions some inappropriate behavior, her father is always ready with an example of someone who did just the same thing and then died. It's funny to watch how he thinks he's making some compelling point, with his wife nodding emphatically in agreement, when all he does is confuse and exasperate his children. After the umpteenth tale of sudden death, Lindsay finally blows up at him, shouting, "I cut class, and look! Everyone's still alive!"
Lindsay doesn't get much help for her angst at first. Her high-strung friend Millie and the former-hippie school counselor are more concerned with why she isn't going to be a "mathlete" than anything else. And when she confesses to her brother how their grandmother's death affected her, he listens attentively, then asks if she thinks he and his friends have a chance of beating up the boy who bullies them. It's a well-done moment, because you can see that he really cares about her, but a 14-year-old boy probably isn't going to come up with a well-crafted speech about the psychological effects of the death of a loved one.
That's another thing that's done well in this series. The dialogue is real. Bullies call out names like "Weird" and "Brain", which to adults sound incredibly lame, but to a child can cut just as sharply as anything more witty or profane. It's all in the tone and the overall feeling of rejection. The conversation between friends is perfect, too. Sam's friend Neal does a funny Captain Kirk impersonation, which Sam finds hilarious, but their friend Bill totally misses. Daniel, Nick, and Ken, the boys Lindsay tries to hang around with, shoot out lame insults and then hit each other.
The class dynamics are also dead-on. I laughed out loud when they showed Lindsay and Nick stuck watching some worn and outdated film reel. I remember vividly sitting in class watching film slides from the WWII era, with audio so garbled it sounded like the adult voices from the Peanuts cartoon. Our mostly deaf instructor could never figure out why we all failed the pop quizes that followed.
The show's dodge ball reenactment was hilarious and also brought back some painful memories, right down to the sadistic gym teacher, who calls kids pummeling each other with rubber balls "fun", and reinforces the "survival of the fittest" pecking order. Sam, Neal, and Bill are portrayed as if in a war zone--dodging fire, crawling along the back wall, strategizing, and then making a run for cover. Neal, of course, gets pegged right in that tenderest part of the male anatomy, and Bill gets clocked in the head and falls to the ground in super slow-mo. In an ironic twist, Sam unbelievably catches the fastball whipped at him by his personal tormentor, thus throwing the bully out of the game and sealing Sam's doom at said bully's hands.
This leads to one of the show's blissfully funny scenes. Neal and Bill decide to back Sam up and take on the bully in hand-to-hand combat. Sam, however, is late for the 3 o'clock showdown, and Neal and Bill are left to fend for themselves. They are joined unexpectedly by another boy, who claims he is just there "to watch" and proceeds to tell them very clinically all the ways they might possibly die in a fistfight. This pragmatic observer ends up being drawn into the ensuing brawl, and what follows is a riotously pathetic scuffle in the dirt, the three geeks taking turns flinging themselves clumsily at their enemy. The bully eventually ends up giving up more in disgust than from actually being overcome, but we sense that he is a little disturbed at having to actually physically back up his tough talk.
What I expected next was for Neal and Bill to be angry with Sam for being late and missing the fight, but once he explained that he had been talking with Cindy, the cheerleader of his dreams, all was forgiven. They were only concerned with the fact that he had been promised a dance at Homecoming. My husband gladly informed me that this was absolutely correct--if you were talking with a girl, everything else is irrelevant. The scene was just right, with Neal and Bill feeling proud of themselves for taking on the bully, and Sam overwhelmed that they stood up for him. Often those on the outer circle of popularity will sacrifice one another in order to stay out of trouble themselves. This here was a true showing of friendship.
Riding high on the joys of this first episode, I became very wary of the previews for the second. Scenes of a keg party at Lindsay and Sam's house, with all the burnouts and geeks present (not likely in real life), conjured up images of the typical teenage frathouse flick. I was pleasantly surprised, however.
The plot opens up with one of those horribly corny school presentations on the dangers of drinking. The counselor continues in the vein of Lindsay and Sam's dad by showing pictures of all the high school students who died in alcohol-related incidents. The scene reminded me exactly of the drivers' ed. films they used to show us in school, reels and reels of horrible car accidents--more carnage than any EMT probably sees in a lifetime. The end result is that kids who would never do anything wrong in the first place are completely traumatized, and the kids that should be listening to the warnings find all of it incredibly amusing.
Coincidentally, Mr. and Mrs. Weir go out of town that weekend, and Lindsay's new friends talk her into having a keg party while they're gone. Lindsay swears Sam to secrecy, but he and his two friends are so concerned about her after the presentation at school, that they decide they must do something. The sight of the three boys standing in the liquor store very seriously asking for a keg of non- alcoholic beer, and then transporting it down the street in a little red wagon is an absolute riot. Their subsequent acts of subterfuge to switch it with the real beer is a sheer exercise in clumsiness, and leads to Bill getting his pants soaked. The deceived Lindsay luckily only assumes this is due to a control problem on his part.
The show accurately captures what happens when a "good girl" like Lindsay tries to impress her more adventurous friends. She immediately gets more than she bargained for, when word gets out and she gains many unwelcome guests, including some very adult, very inebriated, and potentially dangerous men. Thrown into the mix are Sam, Neal, and Bill, who do their best to keep the real beer hidden and keep an eye on Lindsay and the house valuables. Bill, unfortunately, keeps too close an eye on the beer and ends up passed out face down on the floor. Lindsay's friend Millie shows up to see what's going on, and to overzealously prove to everyone that she can have a better time than anyone, without alcohol. The next scene shows her taking over the piano during a break in the record-playing, and striking up a resoundingly pious rendition of, what my husband also informs me, is a Doobie Brothers song about Jesus. The guests are appalled, but Nick, who thinks he is drunk, happily joins in with her.
In addition to all this, Lindsay experiences a crippling blow in the area of romance. Her new friend Daniel, whom she has an incredible crush on, ends up making out on her bed with his on-again-off-again girlfriend, the cruelly vindictive Kim. All this, of course, after being very sweet and attentive to Lindsay, thus raising her hopes. To add insult to injury, she runs into Nick, who misinterprets her need for comfort and makes an inappropriate move on her. Appalled, she retreats back to an unoccupied room in the house, where Sam's friend Neal comes in to try and comfort her. A sweet and funny scene follows, where she confesses how miserable the party has turned out, and he confesses how he has had a crush on her for years. My mother has always said that everyone spends their high school years liking people that don't like them, and being pursued by people that they don't like. Lindsay is a perfect example of this.
Neal remains a good sport,and helps Lindsay out by calling the police and impersonating an angry old man complaining about the wild party. Though his declaration of affection is not one she'll likely return, she bestows a thankful kiss on his cheek, which is enough to make his evening.
The arrival of the police immediately empties out the house, which solves Lindsay's problem, but unfortunately doesn't work out so well for Sam. After careful plotting and deliberation, he manages to end up close enough to the cheerleader Cindy so that she notices him and begins to speak to him, just as Neal announces that everyone had better clear out. It's a mirror of last week's episode, when Sam finally gets his slow dance with Cindy, but by the time he leads her to a place on the floor, the song has changed to a rock number. You can just see how hard he tries, and things never quite work out as planned.
I'm looking forward to what the next episodes will hold. Hopefully the creators can keep up to the standard they've already set. The characters are real and honest portrayals of complex and interesting individuals. The series touches on so many of the greater truths of high school life, and gets even the smallest details right. I look forward to seeing what life brings next to Sam and Lindsay, and their respective groups of friends.
"Freaks and Geeks" airs on Saturday nights, 8pm Eastern/7pm Central. The ensemble cast includes Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, Samm Levine, James Franco, Jason Segal, Martin Starr, Busy Philipps, and Seth Rogan.
21. CLASS DISMISSED
Freaks and Geeks (8 pm/ET, NBC)
By Daniel R. Coleridge
When the recently canceled Freaks and Geeks debuted last year, NBC touted the show as a high school drama "for the rest of us."
I can only assume they meant viewers whose classmates weren't all well spoken, stylishly dressed and blemish-free like the angst-ridden denizens of Dawson's Creek.
Admittedly, paddling down the Creek has been a guilty pleasure of mine — but not because it bears any resemblance to my high school days in a working-class neighborhood of Queens, NY. No, if I needed that kind of emotional resonance, I'd just watch HBO's prison drama, Oz. Though slightly more violent, the Oswald Penitentiary bears strong similarity to my alma mater — and Freaks's circa 1980 McKinley High.
For instance, at both Oswald and McKinley, the cafeteria is a dangerous place. In Oz, one baddie often spits in another con's lunch tray, then orders him to sit down and eat the spoiled food anyway. Kind of reminds you of Twinkie-smashing bully Alan (Chauncey Leopardi) having his regular go at poor little Sam (John Francis Daley), doesn't it? When Sam once informed a teacher of such dining distress, he was met with an unsympathetic exhortation to "be a man."
Such are the indignities of prison and high school: Bells signal lockdown, bullies harangue you for sport and the authority figures (be they guards or guidance counselors) often aren't very effective in their interventions, which only complicate matters further. Though due credit must be given to Freaks's Mr. Kowchevski (Steve Bannos), whose hippie-style meddling at least provides entertaining plot devices.
Kudos also go to beleaguered show producers Judd Apatow and Paul Feig for remaining true to the characters' identities (and various crises thereof) since Freaks's inception. Tonight, as NBC finally gets around to airing the series's last three episodes, fans won't find much changed about their favorites.
Sam bravely presumes to date above his lowly station by asking out his longtime crush, cheerleader Cindy (Natasha Melnick). His fellow geeks, Bill (Martin Starr) and Neal (Samm Levine), then wonder if Sam's move could be their social entrée into the promised land of popularity.
As always, Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) wavers between realizing her academic potential and embracing life as a burnout (she's about to discover the Grateful Dead). Elsewhere, Nick (Jason Segel) still pines for Lindsay while facing the ire of lunkhead Ken (Seth Rogen) for taking up disco. Bad boy Daniel (James Franco) spars with girlfriend Kim (Busy Phillips) and matches wits with the geeks at Dungeons and Dragons.
As an added bonus, Ben Stiller pops up during the mini-marathon as a neurotic Secret Service agent prepping McKinley High for George Bush's visit. Love him — but no guest star could outshine the show's cast. Their alternately hilarious and heartwrenching performances breathed life into a bygone era, even as they eschewed bubble gum blabber to reflect real, touching truths about teens' lives today.
22. Flunking show expelled
'Freaks and Geeks' leaves NBC with three-hour finale
July 5, 2000
Web posted at: 4:10 p.m. EDT (2010 GMT)
By Thurston Hatcher
(CNN) -- It's the anti-"90210" -- a funny, bittersweet, sometimes uncomfortably close-to-home take on adolescence. But while critics embraced the series, "Freaks and Geeks" flunked the Nielsen test.
Now it's closure time for the show, which NBC dumped earlier this year but has brought back for a final summer fling. Three episodes will air end-to-end Saturday from 8 to 11 p.m.
While disappointed by the show's demise, Executive Producer Judd Apatow said he's pleased it's getting one last airing in prime time.
"We're excited anytime anybody gets to see the show," he said. "We're very proud of the episodes. We think they are the best ones, so it was very hard to have them not air for so long."
Apatow, who developed "Freaks" with creator Paul Feig, said they had an inkling the show wouldn't make it past its inaugural season, so he and his partner fashioned a final episode that could work either as a conclusion or a carry-over.
It leaves conflicted Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) in another math nerd-cool crowd dilemma: choosing between summer school at the University of Michigan and following the Grateful Dead. On another front, studly Daniel (James Franco) flirts with geekdom as he discovers the wonders of "Dungeons and Dragons," while fellow freak Nick (Jason Segel) dabbles in disco.
In one of the earlier episodes, Sam (John Daley) finally gets a longed-for date with Cindy the cheerleader, with unexpected results.
Unblinking look at high school
The approach all along with "Freaks and Geeks" -- set in a Michigan suburb around 1980 -- was simply to do an honest show, Apatow said.
"Most of the other shows were escapist fare, were opportunities for kids to watch kids who are better-looking than themselves make out with people who are better looking than them," he said.
"We wanted to do a show that revealed exactly what high school was like, as terrible as it was and as wonderful as it was. We always thought those kids are the majority of kids who are out there. ... I think that's why the show connects with viewers, because they can tell it's real. They can tell we're not making these stories up."
Samm Levine, who plays a nerd on the show who's wise beyond his years, said the topics on the show were timeless: from finding your identity to just fitting in.
"It doesn't matter if it's 1950 or 1980 or 2000," he said. "Kids still deal with the same things, and I think we really nailed that."
Apatow regrets that the show -- which NBC pulled during the World Series shortly after its debut -- didn't have a better shot at building an audience.
"I can never say this show would have been a giant hit in a good time slot left on every week," he said, "but I think when you have a new show that demands viewers' attention, if you take it off the air every three weeks for several weeks, there's no way they can make the habit of watching the show, because TV is basically a habit for most people."
Levine is more outspoken. He credits inadequate promotion by NBC for contributing to the show's demise.
"It was just really mismanaged, so that was very disheartening that they were never truly behind the show," he said.
Levine's role is primarily as a sidekick, but he figures prominently in an episode that will never air on NBC. It may surface soon, though, on another cable network, which Apatow said has agreed to air all 18 original episodes (Since the network hasn't made an official announcement, he declined to say which one.).
Despite the demise of "Freaks and Geeks," the people who put it together know they were part of something special.
"It was a quality show, and we put a lot of work into it," Levine said. "And it showed."
23. Fox Family takes in 'Freaks'
The Arizona Republic
July 14, 2000
TV writer Bill Goodykoontz is attending the twice-yearly Television Critics Association tour, during which networks and producers showcase programs and talents for the coming season.
PASADENA, Calif. - We interrupt the regularly scheduled Television Critics' Tour diary for an unabashed love letter:
In my relatively short time as a TV critic, no show has meant more to me than Freaks and Geeks. I love it, without hesitation. And no network has disappointed me more than NBC, which gave its best new show last fall a bad time slot, shuffled it around the schedule and, citing poor ratings, finally canceled it.
Which is why I was so delighted at the announcement that the Fox Family Channel has bought rights to the show - all 18 episodes, including three that never ran - and will air two a week beginning Aug. 29.
Most of the cast, as well as the show's creators, met with critics here earlier this week during the Fox Family session - an unusual occurrence for a simple announcement that a channel is going to start showing reruns.
But Freaks and Geeks is an unusual show. It's the most honest, funny, searing portrayal of high school I've ever seen on TV. Simply put, it's real - too real, some viewers and, reportedly, network executives, thought. It's TV; who wants to be reminded of their real-life problems?
In a time when "reality" TV has taken over the airwaves, the irony is so thick you could choke on it. Maybe it's just other people's problems we enjoy watching.
Neither Paul Fieg, the show's creator, nor Judd Apatow, its executive producer, seemed to harbor any lasting ill will toward NBC. Or at least not much.
"If you refuse to work for anyone who is annoying in this business, you certainly won't work," Apatow said. "So, God bless them."
Fox Family executives said they would love to make more episodes - "I'll cut off my leg if we can make more shows," Rob Sorcher, the channel's executive vice president for programming, said in a rather unorthodox negotiation, even for Hollywood - but acknowledged that the channel can't afford to.
Which is OK, actually.
"We designed the show like it was an 18-hour miniseries," Apatow said, "and we really feel like we have closure in the work and the way we told the stories, and now we just want to get it out there so people can see it."
Better, perhaps, that Freaks and Geeks exists as 18 perfect little gems, a beautiful show for which "love" is not too strong a word.
* * *
Reach Goodykoontz at Bill.Goodykoontz@ArizonaRepublic.com or (602) 444-8974.
24. Disney buys Fox Family July 23, 2001: 11:59 a.m. ET
$3B deal gives Disney programming, cable network reaching 81M homes
NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Walt Disney Co. is buying Fox Family Worldwide from News Corp. and Haim Saban for $3 billion, plus the assumption of $2.3 billion in debt.
The cable network reaches about 81 million cable and satellite television subscribers in the United States, making it Disney's second most-viewed cable station, and giving it a strong cable platform for its broadcast and other family-oriented content.
Shares of Disney (DIS: down $0.04 to $26.96, Research, Estimates), a component of the Dow Jones industrial average, were little changed in Monday morning trading following the announcement.
ESPN, the sports network 80 percent owned by Disney, reaches 82.1 million homes, while the children-oriented Disney Channel reaches 70.9 million homes, and its animated Toon Disney reaches only 22.2 million homes.
Disney CEO Michael Eisner said it is nearly impossible to build or buy a network with Fox Family's reach today.
"These assets are a perfect fit for our company," Eisner said in a call with analysts. "We paid appropriately for a rare asset."
Disney executives believe they can save $50 million annually in costs through cutting sales, marketing and other back-office costs and positions, and that improved ratings, ad sales and the cost savings will bring allow within two years to double the $150 million they say Fox Family already generates annually in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.
"While Fox Family Worldwide has many fine assets, in our estimations they are still diamonds in the rough," said Tom Staggs, Disney's chief financial officer. Staggs said that Disney will have no problems financing the deal, and it expects to quickly refinance much of the debt it is taking on as part of the deal. Staggs said that after the doubling of Fox Family's EBITDA, he believes the company will see 20 percent annual growth in that key measure going forward.
The network will be renamed ABC Family after Disney's broadcast network.
The deal is expected to close in three-to-four months. Disney executives said the network will start shifting to content from ABC and various Disney properties and that about half the current programming will be replaced within two years. Some ABC shows may be rebroadcast on the channel later in the week from when they originally air, for example.
The channel will still include some of its current programming, such as "The 700 Club," a nightly program from religious broadcaster Pat Robertson. And Disney is acquiring some other programming assets as part of the deal.
For example, the deal also gives rights to show Major League baseball games, including first round playoff games, now part of Fox Entertainment Group's rights package. Robert Iger, Disney's president, told analysts that the purchase of the rights for two regular-season games a week was required by Fox as part of the deal, but that Disney believes it will be able to make a profit on the first-round playoff games.
"We believe there will be value there. We believe they are good programming," he said, pointing out that ESPN carried some playoff games in the past and that the network is better positioned to sell ads on those games and to cross promote the games on ESPN and ABC Sports programs.
Disney also gets rights to 6,500 episodes of animated and live-action children's and family-friendly programming from the Saban Library and Entertainment Productions business, owned by Fox Family Worldwide co-owner Haim Saban. Those programs include Might Morphin Power Rangers, Digimon, Beattleborgs and Spiderman.
The deal also gives Disney 76 percent ownership of Fox Kids Europe, which reaches 24 million subscribers there, as well as ownership of Fox Kids channels in Latin America, which have 10 million subscribers.
Eisner said the deal came together at a recent entertainment conference and involved negotiations between himself, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, Fox Family co-owner Saban and other top executives of the companies.
The deal, widely reported over the weekend, gives News Corp. (NWS: up $0.69 to $36.19, Research, Estimates) additional resources as it negotiates to buy DirecTV satellite television system from Hughes Electronics (GMH: up $0.32 to $19.40, Research, Estimates), a unit of General Motors Corp. (GM: down $0.33 to $64.67, Research, Estimates).
News Corp. is seen as the only bidder left for DirecTV after news last week that EchoStar (DISH: down $0.69 to $28.42, Research, Estimates) had pulled out of the bidding for the satellite television operation.
News Corp. is also awaiting final regulatory approval for its $5.4 billion purchase of 10 television stations owned by Chris-Craft Industries Inc. (CCN: up $0.65 to $70.15, Research, Estimates)
25. The Eyepiece Network: The Darker Side Of Those Not-So-Wonder Years: High School
First, let us praise whomever decided that Saturday is the perfect night to air a show about high school losers, because after all, who else would be watching on prime date night but those of us who really did wear bulky, dirty army jackets and regard cheerleaders with an air of derision? Or those of us who knew which scenes were cut out of Star Wars and which character to choose in Dungeons & Dragons? Or, actually, just anyone who managed to make it through high school without the benefit of being well-adjusted, popular, and beautiful? Freaks and Geeks is so true to the universal high school experience that you may find yourself skipping early Saturday night plans altogether, just to luxuriate in the relief that you don't have to wear gym clothes ever again.
Based on the memories of the show's writer, Paul Feig, the hour-long exploration into adolescent angst is based in the 80s, complete with puffy jackets and bad knits. The action loosely follows sophomore Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini), who has lost that lovin' feeling for high school since her grandmother died, leaving her untethered emotionally and academically. She seeks out comfort from the guys who lounge under the bleachers during class time, and hang out on the "smoking patio" during lunch. Her awkward entry into the group is so artfully and realistically done that it's almost painful to watch. The lone girl freak, Kim (Busy Phillips), is the only supposed burnout unwilling to welcome her, but the three boys of the group casually take in brainiac Lindsay with a kind of curiosity that can only arise out of boredom. When she's first introduced to the loners, one of them remembers her as "the girl who got an A" in one of his classes the year before. Shyly, Lindsay chokes out, "Yeah, well, what are you gonna do?" Another freak, acerbic and sharp, says knowingly, "Yeah, well...what are you going to do?" When Lindsay hesitates, because she has no idea what to say, the viewer is immediately sucked into the question as well, knowing that the series truly does hinge on her answer, which she can only reveal in actions rather than words.
On the geek side is Lindsay's freshman brother, Sam (John Daley), an adorably scrawny little nerd who carefully steps around his sister's rebellion, concentrating instead on how to avoid the bully who torments him daily. It's a familiar set-up, perhaps a bit too familiar, but here it's handled with finesse. Especially nice is the scene in which Sam and his two friends seek out the advice of two older geeks, who sit in calm judgement as easily as the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. Although, predictably enough, a fight ensues later in the show between the bully and Sam's friends, the true bully/bullied relationship reaches its climax during a dodge ball game. For anyone who didn't have the upper body strength of Jackie Chan and the malice to go with it in high school, the mere mention of "dodge ball" could cause involuntary flinching. For some, it still does. The show portrays the game in all its horror filled glory, complete with slow motion jelly balls to the head, groin shots, and beefed up gym teacher rooting for the stronger side. Sam manages, by accident, to get the bully out of the game, but is pummeled afterward with a deluge of red balls. Ah, the tender moments of phys ed.
Because of its insistence on aiming for realism, Freaks and Geeks has a thin veneer of bleakness, despite the happy ending of the first show, in which all is tidily resolved. Some laughs can be squeezed out of the material, but more often the amusement comes from recognition, perhaps, of a former self or old friends. Unlike the saccharine and dopey Wonder Years, in which problems took on a Leave It to Beaver feel, Freaks and Geeks doesn't spoon feed the viewer. There's no overlying layer of "Aw, shucks, that sure was a great time," and there's no huge nugget of moral wisdom to be reluctantly swallowed by the show's end. It's this lack of precious and false nostalgia that gives the show its dark edge and ultimately carries it above the level of other high school shows. Whereas the Dawson's Creek gang, laughably enough, has all the answers, and plenty of adult-written dialogue to explain their deeper feelings, the freaks and geeks here are far more realistic in their muddled speech and daily confusion. They aren't clear skinned Noxema faces moaning prettily about their so-called problems, but simply high schoolers (bad clothes, pimples and all) trying to do what kids do best: ignore their problems and cut class. Poignant without being intellectually insulting and wise without being sugary or lofty about it, Freaks and Geeks is as satisfying as the last day of high school, when you realize that never, ever again will you have to find the right table at lunch, or play dodge ball in an underheated gym.
Elizabeth Millard went to school in Minnesota, where dodge ball and its winter companion, broomball, filled many a heart with terror.
This delightful new weekly series isn't some simplistic "Revenge of the Nerds" fantasy, either.
Instead, with an intelligence and darkly hilarious wit that isn't often found in such raging hormonal outposts as "Dawson's Creek" or the aging "Beverly Hills, 90210," "Freaks and Geeks" artfully explores life among high school's out crowd: The unpopular kids, the nerds and dweebs and burn outs, the non-cheerleaders, the non-jocks.
It's a bittersweet perspective well-known to "Freaks and Geeks" creator Paul Feig, a Michigan native who grew up as "a tall, skinny, geeky kid" in Mt. Clemens, where he graduated from Chippewa Valley High School in 1980.
"I wanted to write a realistic high school show about the outsiders," says Feig, 36, who attended Wayne State University for two years before transferring to the University of Southern California Film School in 1984.
"All of the other teen dramas are about fantasy fulfillment; they only focus on the really beautiful people in high school," says Feig. "But all of us feel like outsiders from time to time.... It's much funnier to be realistic."
And "Freaks and Geeks," set at the fictional William McKinley High School in an unnamed Michigan town in 1980, is extremely witty and achingly real in its depiction of adolescence when you're in with the out crowd.
The series premiere offers a terrific introduction to the social cliques of McKinley High. The opening scene moves from the sappy sweet nothings of a football jock talking to his cheerleader girlfriend in the bleachers, then sneaks beneath the same bleachers to eavesdrop on some freaks jabbering about wearing a Molly Hatchet T-shirt to church. And then around the corner, here comes a trio of freshman geeks, amusing themselves with Bill Murray lines from "Caddyshack." It's a string of perfect, stage-setting snapshots.
And the talented "Freaks and Geeks" ensemble cast could be described as the anti-WB teen dreams. They actually resemble real human beings.
Especially 14-year-old John Daley, who portrays young, geeky Sam Weir with a humble, awkwardly earnest candor that simultaneously touches the heart and puts a smile on your face. Sam's older sister, Lindsay (Linda Cardenelli, AMC's "The Lot"), is the show's signature anti-heroine, a whip-smart A-student who has taken to wearing her dad's old Army jacket and hanging out with the antiauthoritarian, fun-loving freaks.
On first glance, Sam and Lindsay's father (Joe Flaherty, "SCTV") may seem a too broadly drawn caricature of the loving, controlling curmudgeon. But Flaherty's sharp lampoon of parental overprotection is also hilariously on the mark: "You know who used to cut class? Jimi Hendrix. You know what happened to him?" dad snaps at his daughter. "He died, choking on his own vomit!"
Whether Feig and executive producer Judd Apatow ("The Larry Sanders Show") are etching horror tales from the school cafeteria, taking a look at gym class embarrassments or setting a sentiment-laced homecoming dance to the beat of Styx's "Come Sail Away," there isn't a false note to "Freaks and Geeks."
This evocative teenybopper' odyssey offers a tender, passionately funny portrait of the human condition under the extreme pressure of adolescence.
Anyone, young or old, can relate. Even the popular kids.
Like the man said, from time to time, everyone feels like an outsider.