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Tuned in: NBC sorry for lackluster comedies

Tuesday, January 11, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- It's about time. On Sunday, television viewers got the apology they deserve. "I think we should apologize for having the worst show on television this year," said NBC West Coast President Scott Sassa, referring to a critics' poll that gave that dishonor to NBC's short-lived "Mike O'Malley Show."

"It's been a terrible year for comedy for every network," said NBC Entertainment President Garth Ancier. "There are too many comedies on television. I think what you'll find in a more and more crowded universe is that only the good comedies will survive because that's all the audience will tolerate."

"Suddenly Susan" has one foot in the grave known as hiatus, but how to explain the continued existence of "Veronica's Closet," "Jesse" and "Stark Raving Mad"?

"We were in our prep session for this before, and one of the questions we thought we'd be asked is, 'You promised us that "Jesse," "Suddenly Susan" and "Veronica's Closet" would be better this year, and what happened?' " Ancier said. "And the answer is, it is easier to retool a show than to launch a new one. But you know, sometimes you don't make the shows better. I don't think we made them worse, but I think we tried our best to make these shows better than they were."

Everybody who thinks they failed, raise your hands. Yep, it's unanimous.

But the network has mostly comedies in mind for mid-season. Here's a brief look at the shows debuting on NBC in the coming months:

"Battery Park" (air date undetermined) -- A cop comedy from Gary David Goldberg ("Family Ties," "Spin City") starring Elizabeth Perkins as a prickly police captain. This made me long for the days of "Barney Miller," and I didn't particularly like that show.

"M.Y.O.B." (air date undetermined) -- From the writer/director of Christina Ricci's "The Opposite of Sex," this half-hour single-camera comedy (shot on location, no laugh track) looks at the life of a disillusioned, snotty teen-ager (Katherine Towne). Colin Mortensen from "The Real World -- Hawaii" plays a supporting role. It's NBC's most distinctive mid-season comedy, though I'm not convinced I like it.

"God, the Devil and Bob" (air date undetermined) -- The first of two animated comedies, this one's about Bob, a 32-year-old Detroit autoworker (voice of French Stewart), who has been picked by the devil (Alan Cumming) in a deal with God (James Garner) to test whether the world is worth saving. I haven't seen enough of this one to render judgment, but, given no animated show on NBC has attracted an audience in recent years, its chances seem slim.

"Sammy" (air date undetermined) -- David Spade's animated story of his relationship with his real-life father, Sammy, who walked out on his family and returned after his son became a celebrity. If it's half as funny as Spade's description of his dad, "Sammy" might have a chance despite the odds against NBC animated shows.

"The Others" (premieres 10 p.m. Feb. 5) -- A supernatural thriller from Glen Morgan and James Wong (producers who worked on "The X-Files," the second season of "Millennium" and created Fox's "Space: Above and Beyond"), "The Others" appears to be NBC's best mid-season show. It's effectively creepy as it depicts a group of individuals with extrasensory abilities, led by Bill Cobbs as a medium.

"HOMICIDE" RETURNS: Many viewers complained when NBC canceled "Homicide: Life on the Street" in favor of the romantic comedy "Cold Feet," which lasted just a few weeks on NBC this fall. Those viewers weren't alone.

"Homicide" creator Tom Fontana said he usually doesn't keep track of ratings for shows other than his own, but he was eager to see how "Cold Feet" performed. His reaction to its demise?

"I take enormous satisfaction," Fontana said.

Now "Homicide" is back in "Homicide: The Movie," premiering Feb. 13 on NBC. Every series regular returns, even those whose characters were killed (paging Jon Polito and Daniel Baldwin) and actors who departed (welcome back, Melissa Leo!).

"It wasn't so hard getting people to commit to come back," Fontana said. "There was nobody I had to beg or even apologize to. ... I think it was a chance for all of us to acknowledge how really proud we were to be a part of the show."

And what about the dead characters who return? Are they in flashbacks?

"I wouldn't assume that," Fontana said. "I'm not going to talk about that because I think that's part of the surprise in the film."

The "Homicide" characters reunite to investigate the shooting of Lt. Giardello (Yaphet Kotto), who is running for mayor of Baltimore. Although NBC promos for "Homicide: The Movie" promise answers to questions for fans, not everything is solved, particularly the Adena Watson case that dogged Detective Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor) throughout the series' run. Bayliss' sexual orientation also will remain ambiguous, but whether or not he's a killer -- as the final episode of the series implied -- will be resolved.

Fontana calls the "Homicide" movie his résumé, because it also features an appearance by Ed Begley Jr., playing a surgeon who is Dr. Victor Ehrlich from Fontana's "St. Elsewhere." The character's name isn't mentioned, however, because that would have required legal clearances from MTM Enterprises, which owns the rights to "St. Elsewhere."

Fontana, who joked that one of the discarded stories for the movie was "Homicide Goes to Paris," said he has no plans to do a follow-up TV movie, but he'll never say never.

"This show seems to have a life beyond any of our control," he said. "For me, I think this is [the end]. But let's say we beat 'Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.' It's possible."

"Homicide: The Movie" marks the return of Andre Braugher as Detective Frank Pembleton, who left the series before its final season. Braugher and Secor, who played partners on the show, said it was easy to revive their chemistry.

"I've missed him for the past year," Secor said.

"I've missed you, too," Braugher replied, almost tenderly.

"That clears up the sexual ambiguity," Fontana joked.

Fontana's "The Beat" will premiere on UPN this spring, and he's developing a new drama for NBC this fall that will be set in South Beach and focuses equally on a female FBI agent and the mobster she's trying to capture.

NBC DEVELOPMENT: At every Television Critics Association press tour, the networks announce the new series they have in development. But sometimes those shows never see the light of day.

A year ago this month ABC announced a new pilot from David Lynch, "Mulholland Falls," which never made it beyond a pilot. Last summer NBC announced "Not the Bradys," an interracial comedy from Keenen Ivory Wayans. That one's dead, too. Ancier said Wayans got tied up with a movie project and opted not to develop "Not the Bradys."

NBC's latest projects which may or may not survive the development process include the family comedy "Daddio" (starring Michael Chiklis, Anita Barone) and a new comedy from Bonnie and Terry Turner ("That '70s Show," "3rd Rock From the Sun") with a strong father figure at its center.

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