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Freaks and Geeks, now on DVD, made TV a better place

When Freaks and Geeks was canceled by NBC in the spring of 2000, with six episodes left unaired, it marked the beginning of the end of TV before game shows, reality series and franchise spin-offs ruined the medium for the foreseeable future. Around the time Freaks was put in front of the firing squad, ABC was hanging Peter Berg's loony-bin drama Wonderland and Fox was poisoning the Hollywood satire Action! and X-Files' creator Chris Carter's virtual-reality series Harsh Realm. Since then, the quality-TV graveyard has been littered with bodies to bury, chucked there by TV execs too cowardly to let scripted shows find their audiences. Why bother cultivating the good stuff when there are plenty of people willing to eat pig shit for a million bucks or there's some billionaire out there willing to buy his way onto the network with his own reality series?

Network television becomes more and more pointless with each passing season, especially as NBC and CBS threaten to fill their schedules with nightly airings of, respectively, Law & Order and C.S.I. spin-offs and ABC clogs our arteries with its litany of reality shows starring bachelors and benefactors and other gluttonous and horny buffoons willing to do anything for a buck or a suck. Fox has a few good shows, among them Arrested Development and Wonderfalls, but God knows how long that network will allow them to take up space in the ratings basement. Fox has become infamous for eating its poorly producing young shows, including Andy Richter Controls the Universe, American High, The Tick and Apatow's Undeclared, which played like a Freaks sequel set in a college dorm.

"Hollywood just doesn't deal well with things that aren't easily defined," Feig says. "That's why I think 'dramedy' just drives people crazy, because they just don't know what to do. They go, 'Wait a minute. Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? How do we promote this?' We definitely got on because it was right around when Ally McBeal was showing you could be funny and yet a drama, but now, look around. Except for HBO, where is that? There was just this interview in The New York Times with the guy who created The O.C. , and he was saying he loved shows like Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared and some other ones, but he knows when you go in, if you say that, they'll never put your show on TV. So you gotta say, 'It's like Beverly Hills, 90210.' But it always goes in cycles. There will be another cycle where something great kinda comes along..."

The cast of Freaks and Geeks has graduated, but on the new DVD boxed set, they'll be young and hopeful forever.
The cast of Freaks and Geeks has graduated, but on the new DVD boxed set, they'll be young and hopeful forever.
Got geek? Freaks' creator Paul Feig.
Got geek? Freaks' creator Paul Feig.

Yeah, but till then we get a Law & Order or C.S.I. every night of the week.

"Isn't that weird?" Feig says, with a resigned chuckle. "I feel like we suffered from it when it was the game-show cycle. But they will do as many C.S.I. s as they can until one comes out and people don't watch it and they go, 'Oh, I guess they're getting tired of C.S.I. ' And then they'll swing the other way. That's what's great about television and Hollywood: If you just lay in wait, do your thing and do what you do and not freak out, it's gonna change. It might take longer than you think, but if you're doing stuff that's good, people will always want it."

But if they want more Freaks and Geeks, they will be out of luck. Feig has moved on: Two years ago he published Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence, a collection of junior high and high school horror stories, and he's working on its sequel. He has also just finished directing two episodes of Fox's Arrested Development, another one of those brilliant TV shows adored by critics but ignored by the viewers whose eyeballs and opinions actually matter. And he has a film coming out in October called I Am David, in which The Passion of the Christ's Jim Caviezel plays yet another messianic figure.

The DVD rescued The Family Guy and Joss Whedon's Firefly: The former is returning to Fox years after its cancellation, while the latter is being turned into a feature film. But even record-breaking sales of the Freaks and Geeks boxed sets will not resurrect Feig's children, who got kicked out of the house before they had a chance to grow up before our eyes.

"I am so proud of Freaks and, in many ways, look at it as the best thing I've ever done," Feig says. "The only time you start to get weird about it is when you go, 'OK, now it's been four years, and I don't want it to become the only thing I've ever done.' Any creative person always has that love-hate thing with the thing that went really well. You don't wanna be tied to it, but at the same time I've never been a fan of certain musicians who say, 'I disown that album.' You're like, 'No, c'mon, that's a great album. Why would you do that?' I love the show. But my nightmare is the reunion movie, which is just depressing. Everybody thinks it's gonna be really great, and they're like, 'Aw, ugh.' Still, if Judd or I had a fantastic idea for a reunion that suddenly summed everything up, I would do it in a heartbeat."

Right now, there is some kid who runs a Web site who just started holding his breath.

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