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Networks need to heed these New Year's resolutions

Sunday, January 02, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Lose weight. Reduce stress. Smile more.

New Year's resolutions are easy to make, but tough to keep - unless you make the resolutions for someone else.

If anyone needs guidance, it's television network executives. Want proof? Millions of dollars were spent on NBC's "The Mike O'Malley Show," CBS's "Work with Me," ABC's "Wasteland" and Fox's aborted "Manchester Prep." Dogs one and all.

At the risk of presumptuousness, here are a few New Year's resolutions for the networks as the 2000 part of the 1999-2000 television season kicks in.

ABC

It's time for ABC executives to get down on their knees and pray for a miracle.

That's what it will take to keep "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" from flaming out in the ratings. Sure it was unique when it ran for a few weeks in August and November, but once it starts airing three time a week Jan. 11, the game show is likely to wear out its welcome.

ABC also needs a more compatible lead-in for "Sports Night," which continues to flounder in the ratings.

If "Once & Again" doesn't flourish after moving to 10 p.m. Monday on Jan. 24, ABC needs to abandon its love affair with the drama. "Once & Again" was already spiraling downward in the ratings even as ABC postponed plans to bring back "NYPD Blue" in November. Yeah, yeah, "Once" is owned by ABC parent company Disney and it's critically acclaimed (though not by me), but fewer and fewer viewers are tuning in despite a sure-fire time slot on Tuesday. Chalk it up to a noble failure and move on.

CBS

Here's a problem any network would want. CBS has so many shows doing so well in such strong time slots (thank you "Judging Amy" and "Family Law"), there's little space for mid-season programs.

Steven Bochco's "City of Angels" landed in the 8 p.m. Wednesday time period (starting Jan. 19), but the mob drama "Falcone," based on the film "Donnie Brasco," has yet to find a home. One of CBS's Saturday night shows should take a rest to make room for something new.

"Now and Again" has begun to fade on Fridays after a promising start. CBS needs to surround it with stronger programs or move it to a more appropriate time slot. This freshman drama needs nurturing.

FOX

Look on the bright side, Fox can't sink any lower. Can it?

With "Harsh Realm" and "Ryan Caulfield: Year One" already discarded onto the trash heap, the network is counting on the dysfunctional family comedy "Malcolm in the Middle" (premieres Jan. 12) to save the season.

Pushing the envelope with "Action" only pushed viewers away. Fox needs to get back to the entertaining, quality fare that once gave the network a mark of distinction after its tawdry beginnings.

Fox better find new hits soon: "Party of Five" is over the hill and "The X-Files" may not return after this season. That's OK by me because "The X-Files" needs to be closed. It's fine if Fox wants to keep the show on the air and introduce new agents, but don't continue the series without Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson). If they get split up, both the TV show and a potential "X-Files" film franchise will be doomed.

NBC

A year ago it appeared the peacock was poised for a tumble. Just when the arrogance of the No. 1 network threatened to topple its dominance, along came new executives who scheduled "The West Wing," which has become a solid hit.

"Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "Third Watch" are about to get new time slots that may help those promising series improve their ratings performances.

There's still a major question mark hanging over "Freaks and Geeks," which moves to 8 p.m. Monday on Jan. 10. If there's one show among all the struggling new series that deserves a chance to thrive, it's this funny-because-it's-true series. These outcasts are the most realistic teen-agers in prime time and they need NBC's support.

THE WB

We know, we know, your shows are hip with teen-age girls. Even the cheerleading crowd will tire of all the pretty young stars if their shows continue to look so much alike. I've been hearing whispers of a possible "Batman" television series titled "Bruce Wayne" for next season. If it comes to fruition, teen guys might actually tune to the frog network.

"Popular," The WB's Thursday night hour-long comedy, is the most enjoyable new series on the network and it's steadily gaining in the ratings. "Roswell" remains too dreary and "Angel" is a work in progress now that one of the leads (Glenn Quinn) has been dispatched.

The network's trickiest time slot comes after the network's No. 1 show, "7th Heaven." I thought the family drama "Safe Harbor" from "Heaven" creator Brenda Hampton had a shot at success. I was wrong, and now The WB will try out the sitcoms "Brutally Normal" (premiering Jan. 24 at 9 p.m.) and "Zoe" (9:30 p.m. starting Jan. 31), the revamped and retitled "Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane."

UPN

Bully for UPN.

Bullies on "WWF Smackdown!" helped the network rise from the Nielsen dead. Now it just needs to get some shows worth watching on the air. Tom Fontana's "The Beat" may be a good start and the midseason spy show "Secret Agent Man" could be fun.

The one thing the network should not do is announce another "Star Trek" series. That's a dry well. Give the franchise a rest for a few years.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv/ under PG Online Talk.



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