Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.
Love. Exciting and new...
TV viewers above a certain age will instantly recognize the opening words to this classic opening theme. You can envision Puerto Vallarta or other exotic ports the Pacific Princess might be heading to. Every Saturday night at 9, The Love Boat was ready to embark on a new cheesy voyage on ABC.
That was 40 years ago. This is now.
The Real Love Boat premieres Wednesday night at 9pm ET on CBS. Celebrity couple Jerry O'Connell and Rebecca Romjin host this reality dating competition that takes place on a Mediterranean cruise. The captain and cruise director provide counsel for the would-be couples. I wish I was making this up.
Jerry is a great guy. I've had the pleasure of interviewing him multiple times. I root for him. I've never met his wife Rebecca, but she's a beautiful gal who has some quality credits under her belt. I wish them both well, but the best thing I can say about this new series is that it gives me an excuse to write about where its title originates from.
The original Love Boat was a fantastic show for its time. An Aaron Spelling classic. From the Jack Jones opening theme, no one took it seriously on a Saturday night. The crew couldn't be cheesier. The guest stars were often on their last legs. (Give or take a pre-fame Tom Hanks.) Everyone was in on the joke. It was harmless fun.
The ship’s crew was led by Captain Merrill Stubing (Gavin McLeod of Mary Tyler Moore fame) who always invited special passengers to dine at his table. Your ship's doctor "Doc" (Bernie Kopell) had no looks or suaveness yet somehow charmed all the ladies. Pursar "Gopher" (future Senator Fred Grandy) always had a smile and a joke. Smooth bartender Isaac (Ted Lange) had a snap and point for everyone on board. Julie McCoy (Lauren Tewes) rounded out the main cast as friendly cruise director. Their mission was simple — make it a pleasurable journey for all passengers to enjoy.
Don't get me started on the captain's daughter Vicki (Jill Whelan) or ship photographer Ace (Ted McGinley) who showed up during later seasons and, well, let's just say there are lots of sharks in the ocean to jump.
But the passengers were nothing short of fantastic. All your favorite where-are-they-nows thrived on The Love Boat. Charo had a second career as a frequent passenger. Former game show hosts, old teen idols, classic soap stars and countless others climbed aboard. They enjoyed playing fictional characters who booked a trip on the Pacific Princess for a good time. Mostly they seemed happy to be there.
No one was looking for "real" love. There was dating, but that was in the script. There was no competition.
The contrast of this 70’s classic versus this new dating version illustrates the fate of prime-time network TV. Reality shows aren't expensive to make, and if you can slap the name of a beloved classic on it, that's a win. The Real Love Boat is billed as a fun trip, but it's also trying to be taken seriously. Do you think any of these people are looking for love or just looking for reality star fame? It actually matters if they're dining at the captain's table. The desperation is palpable.
Love on the Spectrum is a dating show worth watching because the motivation of the participants is sincere. It tugs at your heartstrings. (Its US-based spin-off is pretty great, too.) The Real Love Boat is the worst of both worlds — a meaningless dating show under the auspices of a TV classic that provided a fictional good time.
Most great TV assumes intelligence. This is the polar opposite. I'm not saying every show should be Breaking Bad or The Wire. It shouldn't. There's plenty of TV real estate for meaningless fun and escape and I’m all for it. But we can do better than this.
As for The Real Love Boat, this love is anything but exciting and new. I will not be coming aboard. Don't expect me.
Here's what actually is worth watching this week…
Alaska Daily (ABC)
Thursday, October 6th 10pm ET
A disgraced New York reporter relocates to Anchorage to start life over again. Hillary Swank takes on the lead role, and the story is from Tom McCarthy who wrote the Oscar winner Spotlight. The pedigree could prevent this from being yet another Northern Exposure knockoff, but then again it's on network television, so I have my doubts.
The Problem with Jon Stewart (Apple TV+)
Friday October 7th
Jon Stewart returns for a second season of weekly deep dives into the issues making this country crazy. Expect more intelligent conversation and laughs from an activist who puts his money where his mouth is. Nice to watch some TV where you can actually learn something. Watch trailer.
Tuesday, October 4th
Top pick of the week. Based on a true story, bodies with arrows turn up in a British community and the hunt for the killer is on. David Morrissey and Joanne Froggatt head up a great cast in this UK detective drama.
THIS WEEK'S STIHTGT!
(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)
A Friend of the Family (Peacock) – A daughter is repeatedly kidnapped by an obsessed local neighbor who refines his tactics over the years. Thursday.
The Mole (Netflix) – Anderson Cooper is out and Alex Wagner is in for this reboot of one of the more clever reality shows. Friday.
The Lincoln Project (Showtime) – This five-parter focuses on the group of Republicans united to prevent Donald Trump from getting re-elected. Friday at 8pm ET.
Let The Right One In (Showtime) – The father of an eternally 12-year-old vampire needs to keep the human blood supply flowing. Sunday at 10pm ET
(Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)
This Week's Pick: Taxi (Paramount+) - Getting laughs on TV is not easy. Getting clever ones is even more difficult. This tale of New York City cabbies from the late 70's and early 80's was masterful at both. Almost the entire cast became stars in their own right (sorry, Randall Carver) but the writing always came first on this classic comedy.
It's Garry Shandling's Show (Prime Video)
The Office (UK) (Hulu)
The Prisoner (Prime Video)
The Twilight Zone (Paramount+)
Black Mirror (Netflix)
The Leftovers (HBO Max)
Deadwood (HBO Max)
House of Cards (Netflix)
Mr. Show (HBO Max, Hulu)
Downton Abbey (Peacock)
Banshee (HBO Max)
Police Squad! (Prime Video)
Party Down (Starz)
The Great (Hulu)
Magic City (Peacock)
For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
Abbott Elementary (ABC)
Luther (HBO Max)
Downton Abbey (Netflix)
The Good Wife (Paramount+)
Freaks & Geeks (Hulu)
Patriot (Prime Video Prime Video)
Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
The Split (Prime Video)
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.
Get vaccinated and boosted. Stay healthy and safe!
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.