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Tuned in: Critic declares war over cancellation of 'Remember WENN'

Tuesday, September 29, 1998

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

This means war, though not the kind of war viewers of AMC's "Remember WENN" expected.

Rob Owen

On Friday, American Movie Classics unceremoniously canceled the 1940s-era Pittsburgh-set comedy/drama series just as the show was about to enter World War II.

Rather than watching the WENN crew do their part on the homefront in the fight against Nazis, fans of the acclaimed series are battling another nefarious foe: AMC executives.

Normally, I wouldn't begrudge a network for canceling a series that had completed its fourth season; four years is usually enough for any program. But "WENN" had half the number of episodes in each of its seasons than most network shows.

Worst of all, "WENN" concluded its fourth season last month with multiple cliffhangers: Will Betty (Amanda Naughton) choose spontaneous Scott (Kevin O'Rourke) or responsible Victor (John Bedford Lloyd)? Will Eugenia (Mary Stout) tie the knot with Mr. Foley (Tom Beckett)? To whom is Hilary (Melinda Mullins) secretly married? And what will her erstwhile husband, Jeff (Hugh O'Gorman), say about it?

To these lingering questions, there may never be answers.

A show that could alternately be slapstick-funny and heartbreakingly dramatic, "Remember WENN" was a gem that deserved better from its network. AMC's shoddy treatment of the show and its viewers will linger in the minds of fans and TV critics for a long time to come.

In a phone interview yesterday, Marc Juris, AMC's senior vice president of original programming, said the network decided after 56 episodes, which will continue to be rerun, that it made more sense to "develop other shows as good as or hopefully better than 'Remember WENN.' "

Fat chance.

"Although we plan things out as much as possible, changes in strategy and changes in direction are things we all have to deal with as best we can," Juris said of the decision to cancel the show after the cliffhanger was written, shot and aired. "We are addressing ways we can wrap up the show. We don't know if we would do an episode or take another approach to it ... something non-traditional just as the series is non-traditional."

Juris said series creator Rupert Holmes is in the midst of another project, but that he and executive producer Paula Connelly-Skorka, a Pittsburgh native, may come up with some sort of a conclusion.

Juris said the winner of the fourth-season "win a walk-on role on 'Remember WENN' " contest will instead receive "something of equal or greater value," not that there is much of greater sentimental value to "WENN" fans.

Calls to Holmes were not immediately returned. Star Mary Stout, who was in Pittsburgh in late July in the cast of CLO's "On the Town," said she became concerned about future seasons of "WENN" when the show's set was struck and put in storage in mid-August.

"I'm sure Rupert is upset, and we all are," Stout said in a phone interview yesterday. "But there's not too much we can do except try to get a conclusion out of [AMC]. And I'd love to see us have some sort of life on another network. I think PBS is a definite shot for us."

PBS produced a final "I'll Fly Away" movie after NBC canceled that drama in the early '90s, but Juris said the network had no plans to sell "WENN" to another network.

Rita Motor, a "Remember WENN" fan in Greenfield, said she liked the show in part because of its Pittsburgh setting.

"I guess I can kind of pretend WENN is the way KDKA used to be in the early days of radio," she said. "This is where radio really started and made it big, and on 'WENN' everything's happening almost in my neck of the woods."

Dana Sherman, a "Remember WENN" fan from Kew Gardens Hills, N.Y., said fans on the Internet are trying to determine the best "save our show" tactic. Some fans in the newsgroup alt.tv.remember-wenn have even suggested writing to their cable company and asking to have AMC removed from the cable system in favor of its rival, Turner Classic Movies.

Not a bad idea.

Normally I don't support boycotts, but this time, count me in.

After courting fans with its first original series, AMC is now willing to ditch those fans without offering a proper conclusion to "WENN." If AMC has so little respect for the audience, why should viewers do anything to support the network?

Here's the plan: Don't watch AMC. Change the channel. Write a letter to AMC's Juris at 1111 Stewart Ave., Bethpage, NY 11714.

Danette Calderwood, a "WENN" fan in Bellingham, Wash., said she just wants closure.

"Our last hope is that Rupert will write a final script and post it to the Internet. At least we'd know what happened to the characters."

Despite the cancellation, Sherman is still planning a trip to Pittsburgh with about seven other "WENN" fans over Columbus Day weekend. She said viewers who talk about the show online decided to meet in Pittsburgh because it's the show's setting and, coincidentally, it's a central location to fans from all over the country.

AMC executives claim one reason for "WENN's" demise was their desire to add a new series in December called "The Lot," set at a small movie studio in 1937. Currently there are only three episodes of "The Lot" filmed, Juris said, but the network is in pre-production on additional installments.

But why should any viewer invest time watching "The Lot" or any future AMC original series knowing it could get yanked without resolution?

I won't bother and neither should you.


Rob Owen can be reached at (412) 263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.



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