TV Review: 'Anchorwoman'

Figuring the audience's enthusiasm for behind-the-scenes newsroom hijinx is limitless, FOX is using the unscripted summer show "Anchorwoman" as a logical appetizer for the fall scripted comedy "Back to You."

Carried mostly by a cast that includes Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton and Fred Willard, "Back to You" is as generic a multi-camera sitcom as you could imagine, but it will look downright inspired compared to "Anchorwoman." FOX reality guru Mike Darnell has been responsible for a lot of distasteful programming over the years, but never anything quite so darned dull.

"Anchorwoman" follows WWE vixen Lauren Jones as she attempts to make the transition from brassy, blonde window-dressing in one medium to brassy, blonde window-dressing in another -- Lauren's the new anchor at Channel 19 in Tyler, Texas. The station's owner wants to boost ratings, but will he also jeopardize the public trust between Channel 19 and its community? Will he alienate his viewership? Will he alienate his current anchorwoman Annalisa Petralia? Or will Jones prove to everybody that she has the right stuff to be an anchor (even though as aspirations go, she's pretty luke warm about the whole project)?

FOX gave "Anchorwoman" a place on its late-summer schedule before the Jones experiment began and little in the first half-hour sent to critics gives any indication that their faith will be validated. The show's opening is supposed to play like a reverse-gender "Broadcast News" -- Jones is positioned as the eye candy William Hurt character, with Petralia as the whiny Albert Brooks, constantly complaining about the decline of journalism. The show's editors don't get the dynamic right, though, and Petralia comes across as a obnoxious pill, moping about Lauren's lack of professionalism and superficiality when Petralia is plenty attractive herself and plenty ready to ditch Tyler for a bigger job. The only reason I can see for continuing to watch is to see if Petralia either gets promoted to a preferable market or humiliated on air.

Despite her WWE bona fides, Jones is too vanilla a lead to be worth following. She isn't the smartest tool in the shed, but she isn't nearly as dumb as the producers wish she could be for their "Legally Blonde" conceit to work. The editors keep jumping on her supposedly bubble-headed moments, ignoring that Jones is obviously joking about her images at least half the time. And so what if she actually does succeed? Is anybody going to be surprised that a low-grade actress is capable, with enough coaching, of reading a teleprompter for a local news broadcast that nobody's watching anyway? If she fails, she only lives down to our basest expectations. If she isn't bad, who cares? I suspect that we're about to learn an important lesson on the dangers of underestimating our bubbliest, curviest celebrities. That'll teach us. Either way, Jones isn't likely to have gained or lost very much from her anchorwoman experience, so the stakes are minimal.

The biggest question is why you'd bother to make an unscripted show and then burden it with some much contrivance and editorial sloppiness that it seems instead to just be badly written and poorly acted. It's not an examination of the constant clash between style and substance in the news world. It's not the portrait of a very interesting or ambitious woman. It's not even a funny and condescending joke about residents of rural Texas. So far, it's just filler.

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