Popular: The WB at it’s Campiest

2 Nov

PopularI don’t know how many people remember the TV series Popular from the WB’s 1999-2001 seasons, but it’s an awesome gem that suffered an early death by cancellation. Before I get into the reasons I love this show, let’s go over the history of the WB circa 1999.

The WB launched in January 1995 and for the first two years didn’t really have any “hits” outside of 7th Heaven, and to a lesser extent the Steve Harvey and Jamie Foxx Shows, though I personally enjoyed Unhappily Ever After, and to a much lesser extent Sister, Sister. Then Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired in March 1997, which changed the WBs course forever. Instead of focusing on broad comedies or family oriented dramas, the powers-at-be decided to go for the teen market, and quickly following Buffy‘s success, they churned out Dawson’s Creek that catapulted the station and it’s stars to the stratosphere. Following James Van Der Beek and company, the WB launched Felicity and Charmed in the Fall of 1998.

The WB wasn’t the first station to reel in the teen market, but it was the first one to cater primarily to teenagers. Fox had Beverly Hills, 90210, but also The Simpsons, and Married With Children–while popular with the younger demographic, they weren’t aimed specifically at teenagers or about them. ABC had TGIF, but Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and Boy Meets World, didn’t have the bite that the hour long Dawson and Buffy had.

Dawson, Buffy, and 7th Heaven shaped every program the WB launched until it joined to form the CW Network. The “Dawsons” were shows about young adults, featured impressive dialogue for the character’s age groups, love triangles, relationship dilemmas, and never really found an audience beyond the teenage girl demographic. These included, Felicity, Young Americans (a Dawson’s Creek spin off), Hyperion Bay and D.C. (back-to-back shows with Mark-Paul Gosselaar that both failed), Glory Days (which could be considered a “Buffy” but it’s from Kevin Williamson), and One Tree Hill. The “Buffys” obviously had supernatural aspects and loads of action and included Charmed, Angel, Smallville, Supernatural, Roswell, Birds of Prey, Tarzan and a few others. Finally, the “7th Heavens” were family or generational dramas: Everwood, Jack & Bobby, Just Legal, The Mountain, and Related. Gilmore Girls is perhaps the only one I hesitate placing in the “7th Heaven” category, as the character development and dialogue quite easily fit in with the “Dawsons,” it’s ultimately about the family of relationships between Emily, Loralei and Rory.

So here we are, 1999 and the WB is in full swing, they launch a Friday night schedule: Angel, Roswell, and Popular. Although a dark comedy, Popular was generally scheduled around the other successful teen dramas, which did not make for good bed fellows. It was never very successful. It was pure camp at it’s best, and bad, forced drama at it’s worst. Personally, I believe the show was canceled due to the second season, which became a train wreck when the writers/creators/producers attempted to conform to the “Dawson” genre by adding drama and loosing a lot of the comedy. Of course, the comedy also suffered when Leslie Grossman negotiated her contract to allow her every 4th week off due to the intensity of her performance as Mary Cherry. Understandable, but with her out ever fourth episode or so, the writers, who relied on the character for most the humor, created dramatic story points to make up for it–unsuccessfully. However, while the second season was the final straw that canceled the show, I think the reason it was unsuccessful was because it’s gay.

I mean it. It might not have any openly gay main characters, but it has a gay sensibility, aka it’s one of the campest show’s I’ve seen on network television. Mary Cherry is a straight up drag queen, Ms. Glass (aka “Sir” aka “Claw) is a closeted, butch lesbian who deals with her own sexuality through the course of the show, and most importantly, it doesn’t fall into the homogenized “Buffy,” “Dawson,” or “7th Heaven” genres, which is why it’s the only WB show I ever watched (excluding Buffy which I only started watching a few years ago after it had been off the air). The only other show that ever attracted my attention like Popular, was the short lived Gross Pointe–a satirical look at Beverly Hills, 90210. Much like Popular, Gross Pointe parodied the other network shows.

This is only the beginning of a series of posts I will be writing about Popular. For my birthday, I received the complete series on DVD and I plan to write an article on the most notable episodes (if not all/the majority). Eventually, I might do the same with other WB shows, but seeing as I only have Buffy on DVD and I don’t know if I could ever get myself to watch even a whole episode of Dawson’s Creek, we’ll see how that goes.

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One Response to “Popular: The WB at it’s Campiest”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Popular Revisited « The Wonderful World of Liz Thrilla - December 16, 2010

    […] the entire series of Popular on DVD for my birthday.  I immediately consumed all the episodes and noticed how this show didn’t fit into the late 90′s line up for the WB because of how qu….  I initially planned on updating with some more observations, but PhD research got in the way and […]

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