Maybe man wasn't meant to watch television in the summer. Nor woman, either. Nor child, dog or cat. As bad as TV can be the rest of the year, in the summer, it gets worse. This is practically a law of nature.
But the weary old networks have been jostled somewhat out of their summer naps by the lively, aggressive Fox network and by pay-cable channels like HBO. These guys continue to program first-run fare, in addition to reruns, in summer months.This summer, in belated response, NBC offered the new sitcom "Seinfeld" (its four-episode run already over, alas); CBS has a new "lighthearted drama series" called "Northern Exposure" premiering Thursday, July 12; and ABC recently unveiled a prime-time edition of "Jeopardy" and a new TV version of the board game "Monopoly" on Saturday nights.
The so-called "Super Jeopardy" is a bust, however, since it awards contestants mere points instead of money, with the cash waiting somewhere down the line. "Monopoly," produced by nervy Mervy Griffin, has bombed big, primarily because the game as adapted for TV is both hellaciously complicated and onerously dull.
Meanwhile, basic cable channels like the USA Network hope to build on their growing audience base with original summer shows of their own. USA's usual output is twice-worn reruns, shows like "Miami Vice" and "Murder, She Wrote" that have already aired and re-aired on the commercial networks.
But last year, USA started offering original, made-for-cable movies each month, and the next one, "Curiosity Kills," on Wednesday, June 27, isn't such a bad little thriller. It isn't such a good little thriller, either, but in summer, one is forced to relax standards.
By no coincidence whatever, almost all of the 23 original films commissioned so far by USA have been murder mysteries or thrillers, often with dead giveaway titles: "Murder by Night," "High Desert Kill," "Buried Alive," "Dead Reckoning," and a blah, unnecessary remake of "Sorry, Wrong Number."
The cable industry could never point to these USA films if it wanted to brag about bold and innovative programming. But then, what could it point to? Not much.
At least "Curiosity Kills" has a beguiling and handsome twosome, C. Thomas Howell and Rae Dawn Chong (formerly teamed in the theatrical feature "Soul Man") leading the cast. They play a struggling photographer and a struggling sculptor living in a big converted warehouse in Los Angeles.
Director Colin Bucksey and the writers borrow generously from Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window" and from the more recent cult hit "Apartment Zero" for their story of a nosy young man who gets very suspicious when a spooky guy moves into the loft down the hall.
"He seems kind of strange, doesn't he?" says Chong, after she and Howell notice that the neighbor leaves the building regularly at 2:30 in the morning. They follow him one night. Then they rig up a way to bug his loft (a very delicate operation). And then one day, our hero goes so far as to break in and search the suspect's belongings.
You couldn't say the tension is unbearable. But it's not entirely negligible, either, partly because Howell and Chong are so buoyantly compatible. Courtney Cox plays Howell's snobbish, snotty girlfriend (we know she's headed for the exit almost from her first appearance) and Jeff Fahey is the guy next door with the great big gun in his credenza.
It all leads to a rooftop showdown involving a mysterious coughing fat man.
It would have been a better adventure if the writers had come up with dialogue a little less flat and if the characters didn't behave so foolishly at times that you stop rooting for them and hope they get caught.
Then, too, there is the yawning, droning musical score written by notorious nap-inducer Jan Hammer.
But hey, it's summertime, and the viewing is cheesy. At least "Curiosity Kills" is nominally new and, for the most part, attractively put together. It's like so much cable programming, and TV in general: you won't be glad you saw it, but you won't hate yourself, either.