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Monday, March 25th, 2013

'Emily's Reasons Why Not': Because Once Was Enough

There must be a special type of indignity felt when you are canceled after one episode – only nineteen English language shows throughout the entire history of television have had that honor, after all. After being chosen among multitudes of other pilots, to be one of the select few to actually make it to air, to only be told that twenty two minutes was more than enough, thanks?

Emily's Reasons Why Not is the one show out of the lucky nineteen that is most likely remembered by the American public, mostly due to its decent proximity to the present, because that Heather Graham lady starred in it, and because ABC put a lot of publicity muscle behind the show that they so quickly threw to the curb. (Some sports fans may still recall legendary college football broadcaster Keith Jackson — 77 years old at the time and working his last game — struggling to read the promotional copy for Why Not five days before the series premiere/finale, in between plays of the 2006 Rose Bowl between Texas and USC, which was witnessed by 35.6 million people.) The network was counting on the show to anchor their Winter/Spring Monday night lineup, which on schedule would suddenly not be broadcasting Monday Night Football, due to the NFL's insistence on not playing twelve months a year.

ABC head of programming Steve McPherson wasn't necessarily relying on the same audience to keep watching their channel on that evening, but because Why Not had a similar sounding pedigree to Sex and the City — Based on a book! Female protagonist! Female protagonist talking about dating dudes! — it might draw a healthy amount of eyeballs and buzz. Heather Graham was never more popular as as she was from acting in Boogie Nights in 1997, but she did guest star in nine episodes of Scrubs as Dr. Molly Clock during the show's fourth season and had a memorable performance as a Saddam Hussein loving teacher on one episode of Arrested Development, proving that comedic television wasn't beneath her or out of her element. They got Macy Gray to sing the theme song! Never mind that allegedly ABC bought the show from Sony without seeing the pilot…

If you learn anything from Brilliantly Canceled, it is that you should always ask to see the pilot. Emily's Reasons Why Not, which was green-lit to produce six episodes without being asked to provide a single frame of film, premiered on January 9, 2006, and was officially canceled on January 10, 2006. "Only" 6.2 million people witnessed it that night, but thanks to YouTube, you can watch it right here, right now.

Did the show deserve to be canceled after one episode? Considering all of the garbage television has presented us with, no. But it is obvious that if it went through the standard pilot season rigamarole the pilot would have been rewritten and reshot, possibly with a few cast changes, hopefully with joke punch-ups. The only reason it flickered in front of some people's faces at all as it was is because it makes little financial sense to buy a show and not put it on the air.

The premise to Why Not was laid out quickly in the episode: Heather Graham is Emily Sanders, who described herself as an "editor of self-help books whose advice I never seem to follow," which is a sentence that welcomes itself to mockery so much that mockery is a little taken aback and off-put by how forward it is. Sanders was intelligent enough to have developed a keen sense of self-preservation by living by some sort of five strikes rule since she was a teenager: if she can come up with five reasons "why not" to do something, she will not do it. Unfortunately Emily couldn't bring herself to apply her system to sexually appealing men, and as a result she had been with a bunch of scumbuckets in jeans and chinos. But no more! Every member of the opposite sex hence forth will need to not give her five reasons to break up with him during their relationship or else he gets sent back from whence he came. (Of course, anybody can find five things wrong with someone when given enough time, but let's ignore that.)

Through standard voice over and graphics, Emily demonstrated what it looks like when a man is run through the system. In the pilot, Stan from marketing unknowingly became the guinea pig. Initially Stan seemed like the perfect gentleman, until he became a perfect gentleman that did not want to have sex with our heroine. Because he had a subscription to Martha Stewart Living, and Emily's cheating ex-boyfriend (Mark Valley) referred to the discipline of karate Stan engaged in as "the gayest sport there is" (Brazilian Jujitsu. Most effeminate sport in the world. Who knew?), she drew the conclusion that he must be a closeted homosexual. Of course it turned out that he was a Mormon virgin, but that discovery came right after Emily blathered about how it was okay for him to be gay in a voice mail, which Stan conveniently played in front of five male co-workers. Stan — who by the way could have at any point been forthcoming about wanting to wait for marriage and about his religion — was not a fan of the shenanigans and the two were over.

Like most first episodes of comedies, the pacing is noticeably slow, and in the case of Why Not the pilot was at times glacial. There were a handful of unnecessary and distracting long pauses in between lines, and some scenes ended with characters looking at one another without adding any gravitas or humor. The supporting characters, best friend Reilly (Nadia Dajani) and gay best friend Josh (Khary Payton), weren't fully developed, and Josh was relegated mostly to token gay friend sayings. (In the show's defense, they are unfortunately by far not the only show guilty of such a thing, and he was never obnoxious.) "The gayest sport there is" comment was uttered by a character the audience is supposed to dislike, but because Heather Graham's character believed him, and the show never exhibited a nuance that can make Archie Bunker get away with the things he said, it struck a sour note.

ABC did not seem encouraged when considering the other episodes that were shot, so they went with repeats of The Bachelor and eventually Supernanny to fill the time. Those other episodes however made their way to Spain, Austria, Slovenia and Latin America, and escaped/aired as scheduled. Some kind individual uploaded the five episodes America could not handle (with Swedish subtitles?) to YouTube, and all six produced episodes were quietly officially released on DVD last year.

Was Steve McPherson right to never let episodes like "Why Not Date Your Gynecologist" run on ABC? Affronts to grammar aside, it did open to a Cheap Trick song. But subsequent episodes proved that even when it stumbled into a potential comedy goldmine, Why Not would stubbornly stick to their tone and focus exclusively on Emily and the boyfriend of the week. In one episode, Josh not receiving a liquor license for his coffee shop/nightclub led to 14-year-olds making it their late night hangout, but like virtually all of Josh and Reilly's stories, the scenes were in the margins, not even getting enough airtime to be considered a "B story." Poor James Patrick Stewart — maybe you know him as handsome Keith from Andy Richter Controls the Universe? — did not appear in the pilot episode despite his name being shown in the opening credits, which would not have been a problem had it been for the fact it was the only episode most people had seen. But when Stewart did appear as Emily's boss Midas O'Shay (his full name was never uttered on the show. Another wasted opportunity), pretty much everything he said was golden (sorry). Midas somehow came across as a likable pervert, and provided the lone laugh out loud moment in the series when he surprisingly uttered "If it makes you feel any better, I made out with my cousin once" to a sad Emily. O'Shay only appeared in one other episode, and a speech he made with a promising premise is drowned out by an Emily voiceover.

"Why Not to Cheat on Your Best Friend" was the lone installment that did not involve Heather Graham's character preoccupied with silently judging a male, instead shining a spotlight on her at times tenuous long term friendship with the allegedly slutty, rough-around-the-edges Reilly. The episode added some substance to Reilly and even hit some emotional notes that they were going for. Of course, "Best Friend" fell off the rails for half of an act when Emily erroneously started to believe that the woman she replaced Reilly for wanted to make Emily into her own image — a reverse Single White Female, I guess. It came to nothing.

("Why Not Invite Your Vacation Date Home"'s plot was ripped off by How I Met Your Mother a year after it was shot when Robin brought Enrique Iglesias home to Manhattan. That fact did not really belong in any of the previous or future paragraphs but it needed to be written.)

An innocent victim back in 2006 of the show's failure was the John Stamos sitcom Jake in Progress. The initial premise to Progress had Stamos on a date that would last as long as the entire series, but ABC made producers nix that interesting format after the pilot, the show was initially canned after a thirteen episode first season, but a change of heart found them on the Winter schedule after Emily's Reasons Why Not. After the season premiere, Jake in Progress was not canceled on January 10, 2006; it was put on hiatus. And later canceled, without another episode put on the air. Despite the messing with Uncle Jesse's emotions, Heather Graham's karma didn't worsen — she never bothered with television again but has appeared in numerous movies since the show, including The Hangover. Emily Kapnek, who developed Why Not for television and executive produced, is the showrunner for the quality Suburgatory, which is winding down its second season on ABC, so there are clearly no hard feelings between the two parties.

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