'Samantha Who?' Has to Keep Dancing Fans

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- With the fall season upon us, Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg casts a critical eye on some of TV's new and continuing series to help marketers determine which may prove to be the best showcases for their ads and products. Tonight, ABC debuts "Samantha Who?," a sitcom it holds high hopes for.
Christina Applegate is 'Samantha Who?'
Christina Applegate is 'Samantha Who?' Credit: ABC

"Samantha Who?"

Where/when you'll see it: ABC, Mondays at 9:30 p.m.

What you'll see: Audiences will come to ABC's new female-skewing comedy, "Samantha Who?," to see if its plucky, amnesiac protagonist can get her memory back. Advertisers will want to see if ABC audiences will remember this sitcom in the half-hour gap that now takes place Monday nights between the end of "Dancing With the Stars" and the start of "The Bachelor."

"Samantha" is Samantha Newly (a winning Christina Applegate), who's just been roused from an eight-day coma after a hit-and-run accident. And while she is surrounded by what seems to be a doting family and dedicated friends, Sam can't remember any of them. She has what the doctors call "retrograde amnesia," and doesn't recall that she hasn't talked to her parents in two years, had an alcohol problem, was cheating on her boyfriend and had become an all-around awful person.

Not so the "new" Samantha, who finds herself in an enviable position: She gets to remake her life, even as she must navigate through the troubles of her past. On the face of it, the conceit of this sitcom is silly, even slight. But the clever performances of Ms. Applegate, plus Jean Smart as her overbearing mother and Jennifer Esposito as her lush of a best pal, make this an entertaining, even fun, way to spend half an hour. Whether the characters tear through the paper-thin story concept (if Samantha already starts to figure out her past in the first episode, how much longer will it be before she remembers everything?) remains to be seen.

What's at stake: ABC needs to make people laugh. Though its airwaves are filled with smart, sexy dramas ranging from "Desperate Housewives" to "Pushing Daisies," ABC has developed a reputation for stumbling when it comes to sitcoms. "Cavemen" and "Carpoolers," two Tuesday-night sitcoms, are already starting to display signs of audience rebuke. So "Samantha Who?" may be the only ABC half-hour comedy that has a glimmer of hope. But as CBS and NBC have proved, sitcoms tend to do better when they are presented in a block, such as CBS's Monday night lineup or NBC's long-held approach to building its Thursday-night comedies. It remains to be seen how successful ABC's unorthodox placement of this stand-alone half hour fares.

Your ad here? A fish-out-of-water comedy featuring a popular comedic actress sandwiched between two venerable reality programs? Advertisers ought to feel very comfortable buying spots in "Samantha Who?" so long as the story gains some momentum. Getting outfits and accoutrements into the hands of Samantha and her cronies could also be a good way to win attention through product placement.

Media buyer's verdict: This is a show for women running in a time slot when most rival networks are airing programs for guys -- "Heroes" on NBC, for instance, or the block of comedies on CBS. Because the show features both Ms. Applegate and Ms. Smart, "there is more generational appeal" for women of different ages, said Shari Ann Brill, senior VP-director of programming at Carat. In her view, "Dancing With The Stars" is doing "phenomenally well," and "with that as a lead-in, how can you go wrong? I think there will be enough takers," she said. "I think it's cute enough that women will stick with it."
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