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Tuned In: NBC delivers final snub to 'Freaks and Geeks'

Thursday, March 23, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Much as I love TV, there are days I feel like giving up on the medium.

Yesterday was such a day. NBC canceled "Freaks and Geeks."

But "canceled" wasn't the word the network used to describe the show's off-the-schedule status to creator Paul Feig.

"They used the most horrible term I've ever heard: 'pulled indefinitely,' " Feig said in a phone interview after the ax fell. "I've likened it to 'fatally wounded.' It doesn't say dead, but it implies it."

To add insult to injury, next Monday NBC will replace "Freaks and Geeks" with that virus-like newsmagazine "Dateline NBC." Just what television needs.

"Freaks and Geeks" centered on two different groups of outcasts at a Michigan high school circa 1980. The series featured actors who actually looked the right age to play teen-agers, and they looked like real people, not TV stars ready for a WB-approved close-up. Pittsburgh native Joe Flaherty played the father of a geek and a wannabe freak.

Never mind that "Freaks and Geeks" was one of the most critically acclaimed shows of the season. Never mind that "Freaks" was smart and funny. Never mind that the show went up a share point from last week to this week.

None of that was good enough for NBC. Why put on quality when you can air "Daddio"?

"Obviously we're upset right now," Feig said. "Almost all the people at NBC have been so supportive of the show, so in love with the show. It's just the people who are making the decisions who are not on our side. The people under them love the show."

Feig said he hopes another network will broadcast the six episodes that haven't yet aired. MTV picked up "My So-Called Life" reruns and Feig said there may be some interest at that network in "Freaks and Geeks."

"As upset as I am about the cancellation, I'll be more upset if we don't get to let the people who liked our show see these last episodes," Feig said. "We wrapped up the season very well, and to keep with the death terms, it brings a nice closure."

Feig, who wrote and directed the unaired season finale, said the show went from a 7 share last Monday to an 8 share this week. That's not a great Nielsen performance, but it shows improvement.

Last month in a teleconference, NBC Entertainment president Garth Ancier said the network pulled "Freaks and Geeks" during February sweeps so the series could be relaunched during a less competitive month and given the time necessary to build an audience. The show returned March 13, and now it's gone.

"That's what's a little aggravating," Feig said. "We're scratching our heads because we feel that we were a little bit lied to by the powers that be."

The failure of "Freaks and Geeks" can be squarely blamed on NBC. The show was probably too smart for broadcast network television to begin with, but NBC did the series no favors. It premiered Saturdays at 8 p.m. last September and aired only a few weeks before it was pre-empted for baseball.

When "Freaks" returned at the end of October, there was no publicity push. So it was yanked and moved to Mondays at 8 p.m. in January. Then it got yanked again during February sweeps.

"This is a textbook example of how to kill a show. If they make programmers go to a course, this is 'What Not To Do 101,' " Feig said. "The only way a show like this -- which is about kids, but written for adults -- is going to take off is if it's on in the same place for a whole season so word of mouth can build and people slowly come to it. It won't work any other way, and we proved that."

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

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