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No love on Thursday for canceled 'Cupid'

Thursday, February 04, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Here's a story you won't see on "20/20": Over the past four years, Diane Sawyer has cost the jobs of hundreds of actors, writers and producers who work on TV dramas.

Rob Owen

That's one way to look at ABC's insistence to schedule "PrimeTime Live" and now "20/20" in the Wednesday 10 p.m. time slot to keep its prima donna anchor from bolting to another network. ABC's reluctance to program a drama at 10 p.m. Wednesday has meant the continuous failure of quality series that should have been, could have been, hits.

The most recent victim: "Cupid."

Just last month ABC Entertainment president Jamie Tarses promised her network would have patience with this critically acclaimed but low-rated romantic comedy-drama.

Last week, "Cupid" was canceled. Talk about an arrow through the heart - just in time for Valentine's Day.

Overall, ABC has shown more patience with its shows than other networks, but Thursday at 8 or 9 p.m. has been a death zone dating back to even before "PrimeTime Live" took over the Wednesday 10 p.m. time slot in 1995.

My all-time favorite show, "Homefront," was a victim. So was "Murder One," "My So-Called Life," "The Monroes," "High Incident" and last year's "Nothing Sacred."

Of course, there's no guarantee these shows would have been hits Wednesday at 10 p.m., but they certainly would have had a better chance. Adult dramas lend themselves to 10 p.m. time periods. They don't draw as many viewers at 8 p.m. and they certainly can't compete with a "Friends" or a "Seinfeld."

"Cupid" could have been an easy slam dunk. This "Moonlighting" for the '90s had all the humor, drama and romance needed to become must-see TV. ABC never gave "Cupid" a fighting chance to hit the mark, premiering it on low-rated Saturday this fall and then moving it to Thursday in January.

Is it fair to blame Sawyer? Probably not, but if the agents of news stars like Sawyer put the sort of "move my client's show and she'll go elsewhere" pressure on networks that I and many other TV critics suspect, then the whole lot of them share some of the blame for these cancellations.

Of course, ABC executives who cower in fear of losing Sawyer are ultimately to blame. They have the power to schedule shows in a way that gives a program a fighting chance in the Nielsen ratings.

That ABC canceled the low-rated "Cupid" the same week its parent company reported an 18 percent decrease in earnings in its most recent quarter of operation may also be noteworthy.

Whatever the cause of "Cupid's" cancellation, there's just one inevitable result: More viewers will realize there's no reason to get hooked on a network TV show that has a good chance of being canceled. And the broadcast networks wonder why their audience is eroding.

DIGITAL DEMO: I have seen the future, and it looks sharper.

WTAE was the first Pittsburgh station to begin broadcasting in digital, and this new technology will certainly give home viewers a better TV picture - once they buy a digital set.

The shape of these sets, rectangular like a movie theater screen, is an improvement. The ability to receive station signals via digital (you either get a station or you don't, there's no snow-filled in-between) will be a welcome change, too.

But after seeing HDTV on WTAE's digital set, I can't say it's enough of an improvement for me to run out and buy a set until the price drops significantly from the current $5,000.

Digital TV is likely to make the biggest difference in the broadcast of sporting events and special-effects-filled motion pictures. Clips from those types of programming looked more dynamic and gave a "being there" feeling that a news show or set-based sitcom/drama just can't capture.

The big losers in digital? News anchors. With this new technology viewers will be able to see every pore, every blemish, every crow's foot. Broadcast journalists worry about age discrimination now, but they haven't seen anything yet.

'BECKER' BEWARE: Do not mess with Hattie Winston's desk.

Winston stars as Margaret, Ted Danson's office manager/head nurse on CBS's "Becker." During a set visit last month members of the media were encouraged to wander the "Becker" sets - the diner, Becker's apartment, his office - and poke around the props and set dressing (the phone books are from 1994, medical files include a script from the sitcom "Living Single").

Reporters zeroed in on the front desk at Becker's clinic where Margaret often sits. Her schedule book shows appointments for Molly Ringwald, Ingrid Bergman, Rita Moreno, Clark Gable and Fred Flintstone.

A reporter - OK, it was me - fingered through the mail on Margaret's desk, only to get his hand slapped by Winston. Moral of the story: Beware of method actresses who are always in character.

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

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