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Four TV shows end - not a moment too soon

Wednesday, May 12, 1999

By Rob Owen and Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

A year ago at this time, you could not pick up a magazine (or this newspaper) or watch any newscast without happening upon the hype surrounding The End of "Seinfeld." This year, the buzz about the new "Star Wars" movie has made a phantom of any TV series finale.

But, let's face it. Do you really know anyone clamoring for one last whine from The Nanny? Do you care if Paul and Jamie live happily ever after with little Mabel?

With little fanfare, four long-running network series are coming to an end: "The Nanny," "Mad About You," "Melrose Place" and "Home Improvement." But if you think they're getting little attention, consider the quiet exodus of two other shows, The WB's "Sister, Sister" and "Unhappily Ever After." Both will bow out on May 23.

The big shows on their way out will at least be remembered, but there won't be a mass mourning. How come?

The same reason why you're now saying, "They're still on?" The shows stayed in production longer than they should have. The same could be argued about "Seinfeld," but while its quality may have been down, it wasn't out. This year's four departing shows lost any oomph they once had at least two years ago.

Viewers agree. Ratings for all four shows have been down, with "Mad About You" and "Melrose Place" going into a precipitous freefall. CBS even yanked several episodes of "The Nanny" to keep the show's low viewership from dragging down its Wednesday night schedule.

These shows made an impact during their TV lifetime; but like bad dinner guests, they stayed too long.

Fran Drescher from "The Nanny" 

"The Nanny"

Premiered: Nov. 3, 1993.

Finale: 8 tonight on CBS, Fran gives birth to twins.

Most benefited: Fran Drescher wouldn't have starred in the movie "Beautician and the Beast" if not for her sitcom.

Off-screen highlight: Scandal! Drescher separated from her husband and high school sweetheart, Peter Marc Jacobson, but he remained one of the show's executive producers to the end.

When it was good: Some of us might suggest, "Never." Actually, this thoroughly retro sitcom concept -- nasal-voiced, Queens-bred nanny (Drescher) moves in with wealthy Broadway producer (Charles Shaughnessy) and his three kids, falling in love with dad and trading barbs with his butler (Daniel Davis) and business associate (Lauren Lane) -- was a welcome diversion when it premiered. Best of all, the catchy theme song and animated opening credits harked back to "I Dream of Jeannie" or "Bewitched."

When it went bad: The concept (and Drescher's braying voice) wore pretty thin pretty quickly, especially since Fran's eventual union with Maxwell seemed pre-ordained from the start. Tonight she delivers twins. Imagine the additional whining we'll be spared now that the show is over.

"Melrose Place"

Premiered: July 8, 1992.

Finale: 8 p.m. May 24 on Fox, with a funeral and possible appearances from past regular cast members.

Most benefited: Fox, a network still in search of hits when "Melrose" began as a spin-off from "Beverly Hills, 90210," found itself with a smash prime-time soap among its target demographic.

Off-screen highlight: Fox, acting in a guise of "sensitivity," trimmed a cliffhanger episode about the bombing of the apartment complex that was filmed before the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. When the episode aired a month after the real-life tragedy, all viewers saw was Kimmy push the detonation button. Fox saved the fireworks for the show's fall premiere.

When it was good: "Melrose" began as an earnest twentysomething drama, but that format was trashed when the ratings headed south. In its place rose a campy, prime-time soap with a streak of self-conscious humor. Best moments included Kimberly's miraculous return from the dead (complete with head scars and a wig), Amanda's way with words ("Her mouth is as loose as her scruples," she once said of Sydney) and Jo (Daphne Zuniga) harpooning an evil boyfriend.

When it went bad: The good-bad show became bad-bad after the departure of too many essential characters (particularly Kim and Syd), the addition of too many ciphers and a turn toward standard soap opera shenanigans.

Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser of "Mad About You" 

"Mad About You"

Premiered: Sept. 23, 1992.

Finale: 9 p.m. May 24 on NBC. Janeane Garofalo ("Cop Land," "The Truth About Cats & Dogs") will appear as Mabel, the grown-up daughter of Paul and Jamie Buchman.

Most benefited: Helen Hunt, who picked up her third consecutive Emmy for best actress in a comedy series in September. During the run of "Mad About You" she became a movie star with "Twister" and had an Oscar-winning turn as a struggling waitress in "As Good As It Gets." If that weren't enough, she co-wrote and directed the series finale. However, Hunt's latest Oscar get-up (raccoon eyeliner and center-parted, straight hair) was trashed by the fashionistas.

Off-screen highlight: Hunt and Paul Reiser, taking advantage of NBC's jitters over losing linchpin "Seinfeld," negotiated salaries of $1 million each per episode this season. The buzz was long gone by the time the big bucks rolled in. And co-creator Reiser, despite multiple Emmy nominations, has never won. He can console himself with the royalties from his books, "Couplehood" and "Babyhood."

When it was good: Hunt and Reiser were appealing and funny as newlyweds who lived in a spacious Manhattan apartment with their dog, Murray, and coped with their jobs, flighty friends, buttinsky parents, nutty siblings and cousins, crazy subway encounters, forgetful waitresses moonlighting from "Friends," snooty British neighbors and lots of other comic characters. Among the long list of notable guest stars: Yoko Ono as herself; Eric Stoltz as Jamie's old boyfriend; Barbara Feldon as a TV star known as "Spy Lady"; and Carl Reiner as Alan Brady, his alter ego from "The Dick Van Dyke Show."

When it went bad: When the writers drove a wedge between Jamie and Paul, gave them baby lust and sent them into therapy. We didn't sign on for "Mad at You." Or "And Baby Makes Three." After baby Mabel arrived, the series devoted an entire episode to the infant crying and Paul and Jamie's reactions. The stunt had viewers reaching for the remote. Some of them never came back.

Patricia Richardson and Tim Allen of "Home Improvement" 

"Home Improvement"

Premiered: Sept. 17, 1991.

Finale: 8 p.m. May 25 on ABC. The finale will find the family pondering a move from Detroit to Indiana, where a job awaits Jill. A 90-minute block will include highlights, a new episode and 30 minutes of cast interviews.

Most benefited: Tim Allen, who became a sitcom star and turned a so-so holiday movie called "The Santa Clause" into a box-office winner. He also provided the voice of Buzz Lightyear ("To infinity and beyond!") in "Toy Story" and its sequel, due later this year. He wrote a best-selling book, "Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man," too. "Home Improvement" also launched the career of Pamela Anderson Lee, the show's first "Tool Time" bombshell.

Off-screen highlight: Allen did even better than Hunt and Reiser by winning a reported $1.25 million an episode. Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who played middle son Randy, emerged as a teen idol and Patricia Richardson, who labored all these years as working wife and mom Jill Taylor, told a reporter with refreshing honesty, "I've gotten so rich."

When it was good: "Home Improvement," about the host of "Tool Time" and his wife and three sons, was the sort of comedy the average family could kick back and enjoy. The three boys got enough face time to satisfy their young female fans, the "Tool Time Girls" satisfied young and old men, and Richardson and Allen held everything together. Pittsburgher and car expert Lucille Treganowan even did a guest spot.

When it went bad: When Thomas left the show and Allen, sounding like a dad or maybe a TV star scorned, expressed disappointment and puzzlement. In November 1998, Allen said, "I love the kid, but he said he was leaving to study for college. Instead, he's been making movies. I don't know why he just didn't tell everyone what he was planning to do. It's been a shock to me."

And then he threatened to ground him.

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