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HOLLYWOOD (CAP) - The debut of the CW's new sitcom Sean Adams, about a surfer dude who accidentally founds the United States of America, scored blockbuster ratings Sunday night, soundly beating HBO's miniseries John Adams, about the second U.S. president.
"It's true that John Adams definitely has more of a pedigree," said Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales, noting that Tom Hanks was an executive producer for the miniseries, based on the book by respected historian David McCullough. "On the other hand, Sean Adams has some hilarious jokes about Ben Franklin farting, so you can understand the appeal."
Sean Adams stars That '70s Show alum Wilmer Valderrama as the title character, a Massachusetts "smithie" (blacksmith) who anachronistically carries a surfboard wherever he goes, and unwittingly runs for the Continental Congress, thinking he is signing up to be part of a product focus group for the first flush toilet.
In the opener, Adams gets high after inadvertently snorting the powder off Thomas Jefferson's wig, and winds up leading his fellow congressmen in a "Macarena"-like line dance around Philadelphia, at one point smacking his head into the Liberty Bell, causing it to crack. The show garnered 14 million viewers.
As for John Adams, HBO's rating system differs from that of broadcast television, making it difficult to determine its audience numbers. But estimates put it at around eight dozen people, about three dozen more than read the original book.
"I think it's really - it's a shame," said Hanks, clearly shaken, his eyes welling with tears. "I just - wait, give me a moment." Then he hung his head for a full two minutes before finally saying, "If we do not lay out ourselves in the service of mankind whom should we serve? Whom?" Then he broke out in full-throated sobs.
A representative for Hanks later confirmed that while helping to prepare the miniseries the actor came under the delusion that he actually was a member of the Continental Congress, much as he thought he was an astronaut after making Apollo 13 and a World War II veteran after Saving Private Ryan. Hanks is currently in intensive therapy.
TV critic Shales, meanwhile, said that the dichotomy in interest between highbrow and more mainstream fare is nothing unusual. He pointed out that the respected 2001 documentary Abraham and Mary Lincoln - A House Divided, narrated by David Morse and Holly Hunter, was seen by fewer than five people, despite being aired on PBS over a dozen times. Yet there is currently a massive bidding war under way by the major networks for the proposed mid-summer replacement series Booth or Consequences, which imagines Lincoln and presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth as wildly mismatched roommates.
John Adams producer Steve Shareshian points out that his miniseries will have an opportunity to build good word of mouth, given that HBO will air each of its 27 parts three times a day on its various stations, along with "On Demand" showings. But it could still be a tough battle against Sean Adams, whose second episode will feature guest star Heather Locklear as a randy Betsy Ross. (Promos show Locklear, clad only in an American flag, saying, "If you like my stars, wait until you see my stripes!" as Valderrama's eyes bulge wildly from their sockets.)
"It's insane! John Adams never even met Betsy Ross!" protested presidential historian Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789-1989. "And the surfboard wasn't even seen outside Hawaii until the mid-19th century!" Then Beschloss had an aneurysm and had to be hospitalized.
According to HBO Executive Vice President Richard L. Plepler, however, even if John Adams never sees the success of its CW counterpart, he expects it will still do very well at next year's Emmy Awards. "Particularly in the categories that everybody goes to the bathroom during," said Pepler.
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