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Tuned In: 'City of Angels' poses time-slot quandary for hit-happy CBS

Thursday, January 13, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- CBS executives had plenty to crow about during their day at the winter Television Critics Association press tour. Prime-time ratings are strong; CBS has two hit dramas in "Judging Amy" and "Family Law."

But they didn't expect both shows to survive, so the network faced difficult decisions about where to program Steven Bochco's midseason series, "City of Angels." Complicating matters was the show's significance in the history of television. It's a hospital drama with a predominantly African-American cast, and CBS Television president Leslie Moonves is quick to point out there has never been a successful black drama series on television.

"Anybody who thinks it is the same as any midseason show is kidding themselves," Moonves said. "It isn't. This has a lot more social significance. This is not a show you pull in two episodes."

But the only time slot available -- 8 p.m. Wednesday after the premiere Sunday at 8 -- puts what was designed as a 10 p.m. drama on the air much earlier. Not that long ago Moonves took pride in the network's family-friendly 8 p.m. time period. In the second episode of "City of Angels," a man comes into the emergency room with a Golden Globe statue lodged in his rectum.

"By and large, at 8 o'clock we are very pure," Moonves said. "We're competing against 'Beverly Hills, 90210' that has teen-age sex every week. If my kids were watching [the Golden Globe story on 'City of Angels'] they wouldn't quite get it. They know what those kids are doing on '90210.' We have stretched the envelope further, but part of that was out of necessity scheduling-wise.

"Sometimes you have to give up something to get something."

Moonves and CBS News president Andrew Heyward also faced questions about digitally removing the NBC Jumbotron from the background of CBS coverage in Times Square on New Year's Eve.

Heyward maintained it was not deceitful to the audience and defended the decision as another use of graphics.

Moonves said viewers would never see the NBC logo on the CBS airwaves but amended that statement.

"If somebody used the NBC logo to commit a murder, we wouldn't cut it out," Moonves said, tongue firmly in cheek.

"Killed by a peacock, it wouldn't be the first time."

Midseason shows on CBS include:

"City of Angels" -- This decent but not extraordinary medical drama starring Blair Underwood and Vivica A. Fox deserves a chance to grow.

The pilot is pretty unsubstantial, but the second episode shows improvement.

"Falcone" -- A mobster drama about an undercover FBI agent (Jason Gedrick) who must balance his infiltration of the Mafia with his own home life. It's based on the movie "Donnie Brascoe," but after HBO's "The Sopranos," can a network show truly do justice to the genre?

"Grapevine" -- A remake of the 1992 CBS summer series of the same title with the same creator (David Frankel) at the helm. It's a relationship comedy set and filmed in Miami. Looks pretty much the same as it did eight years ago. Not bad.

"MALCOLM" ON TOP: The amazing ratings for Fox's "Malcolm in the Middle" surprised not only network executives, but also the show's director and co-executive producer, Kittanning native Todd Holland.

"I've been involved in so many things that seemed like they should be successes and then they don't go," Holland said.

"I don't ever pretend to judge what the public is going to like or not like, but when I read the script it was so funny and so incredibly human."

Holland directed six seasons of "The Larry Sanders Show" and episodes of "My So-Called Life" and "Felicity" before directing seven of 13 "Malcolm" episodes in its first season.

His stay may be short. He's currently developing both half-hour and one-hour series for next season.

Holland, whose family moved to Meadville when he was young, said the crazy "Malcolm" family bears little resemblance to his own upbringing.

"I think this family is very brave because they fight and they talk and they argue," Holland said. "In my family there were a lot of secrets. To me it's not that dysfunctional because they're in the trenches fighting for themselves and fighting for each other. Dysfunctional to me is when you don't talk about your problems and don't work to figure things out."

Holland said working with children hasn't been the nightmare directors are warned about.

"I've worked with kids a lot and I enjoy kids," Holland said. "I have a lot of energy, so I tend to do well with them. These guys are dreams, and Frankie [Muniz] is just amazingly smart. I often compare this cast, and Frankie in particular, to Claire Danes. She was 15 when I worked with her [on 'My So-Called Life']."

Muniz, 14, stars as the title character on "Malcolm in the Middle," and he spoke equally effusively of Holland.

"I think he's really awesome, and I'm not just saying that because I don't want to get in trouble" Muniz said. "He's the best. He's easy to talk to; he actually listens to me."

Muniz said he grew 5 inches between the time the "Malcolm" pilot was filmed and additional episodes were produced.

He's now 5 feet 5 inches tall, but that's still shorter than most of his friends.

CHANNEL SURFING: FX picked up rerun rights to the short-lived Fox sci-fi show "Harsh Realm," including nine episodes that never aired. ... NBC signed VH1 personality Cynthia Garrett to host the late-night talk show "Later" for at least 13 weeks. ... "TV Guide Awards" will air on Fox on March 5 (ballots to vote are in the current issue) .... Hallie Eisenberg (the little girl on the Pepsi commercials) will guest star on Fox's "Get Real" March 1 opposite her actor brother, Jesse. ... Diana Ross will host the 31st "NAACP Image Awards" on Fox in April.

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