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Tuned In: Web survey fraud boots 'Pretender'

Thursday, May 04, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Critic

Cheaters never prosper, but they sure know how to throw off an unscientific poll.

This year's Readers' Remote: Keep or Cancel? generated 6,000 votes, three times as many as last year's tally. But there was a fair amount of ballot box stuffing.

Rabid fans of NBC's "The Pretender" voiced their support of the tired Saturday night drama by casting 2,674 "keep" votes. They'd have us believe more people want to see "The Pretender" return for another season than "ER" (2,465 votes) or "Frasier" (2,173).

Rather than a subtle, surreptitious campaign -- the kind their hero Jarod would no doubt employ -- they voted in every age category, making "Pretender" the top NBC series among almost every age group. I don't think so. For their efforts, "The Pretender" was disqualified from the poll.

Fans of "Sports Night," whom I would expect better of, frankly, did the same thing, piling in 2,402 votes. "Sports Night" was also taken out of the ranking.

With those shows thrown out, the Top 10 "Keep" series include "ER," "Frasier," "Friends" (2,085 votes), "The Practice" (1,976), "The X-Files" (1,914), "The Simpsons" (1,882), "Law & Order" (1,769), "The West Wing" (1,722), "Dharma & Greg" (1,703) and "Spin City" (1,665).

The Top 10 "Cancel" shows include Fox's half-hour rerun "Ally" (1,762 votes), "Beverly Hills, 90210" (1,762), "Veronica's Closet" (1,708), "Suddenly Susan" (1,659), "WWF Smackdown!" (1,595), "Talk to Me" (1,582), "It's Like, You Know..." (1,576), "Making the Band" (1,494), "Oh Grow Up" (1,403) and "Twenty One" (1,310).

Women accounted for 63 percent of those casting votes.

Highly rated shows generally received more "keep" than "cancel" votes. The exceptions were low-rated series (NBC's "Freaks and Geeks," CBS's "Now and Again") with devoted followings.

Comparing the networks, NBC programs had the best ratio of "keep" to "cancel" votes, no doubt because of the "Pretender" fans. CBS ranked second, ABC third, The WB fourth, Fox a distant fifth and UPN a dismal last. Every network had more cancel votes than keep votes (except NBC) and UPN generated the most apathy.

Only one UPN series, "Star Trek: Voyager," received more than 1,000 "keep" votes. Comparatively, the Top 5 keepers on WB and Fox generated more than 1,000 votes each, and for the other networks every show in the Top 10 received more than 1,000 votes of approval.

Among ABC shows, children 12 and under prefer "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" over "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," while teens favor "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

"JAG" was the favorite CBS show among women, "Early Edition" was tops with children ages 12 to 17, and "Becker" took first place among voters age 70 and up.

Fox's "Ally McBeal" tumbled from its year-ago position. The comedy didn't show up among the Top 3 Fox shows among viewers ages 12 to 54. It was replaced in several categories by "That '70s Show."

"Veronica's Closet" has the ignominy of being the least-liked NBC show two years running. Maybe this year the network will take the hint.

Full results of the poll can be found at www.post-gazette.com/tv. Results will be sent to network executives today. The networks will announce their new fall schedules -- and which shows are kept and canceled -- the week of May 14.

And yes, next year we'll have stricter measures in place to prevent ballot box stuffing.

CRISIS MODE: Some viewers love to complain about local TV news, but there's no question Pittsburgh stations make a good showing when they're pushed into crisis coverage.

Unfortunately, they had another opportunity last week when Richard Baumhammers went on a two-county shooting spree. Ironically, both this shooting and the previous one in Wilkinsburg occurred during a sweeps ratings period.

Flipping from channel-to-channel Friday afternoon, it appeared each station did its best to keep up with the rapidly evolving situation.

From what I saw, WTAE's Scott Baker was on the air the longest, but he didn't have as much help from on-scene reporters as other anchors. Perhaps the shooting locations' proximity to the station, which worked for WTAE during the Wilkinsburg shootings, worked against the station this time.

KDKA and WPXI had the best coverage Friday afternoon. After the perception that KDKA dropped the ball on live coverage the day of the Wilkinsburg shootings, the station overcompensated this time, pre-empting "Hollywood Squares" at 7:30 p.m. and "Nash Bridges" at 10 p.m. for special reports (the station has no plans to air that "Nash" episode in an alternate time period).

In the afternoon, KDKA's Stacy Smith anchored with assistance from Don Cannon, piecing together the events of the day as calmly as possible.

WPXI's David Johnson -- and later with Peggy Finnegan -- did an excellent job handling phone-in eyewitnesses. They professionally balanced a desire to get information with a sense of humanity when it became clear a caller was overcome by grief and couldn't continue.

At 10 p.m., WPGH offered an adequate recap of the day's events but with fewer reports and details than the other stations. Still, the first half-hour ratings for its newscast were higher than usual.

During the 4 p.m. hour of coverage, more viewers tuned to WPXI, which usually wins that time slot with the regularly scheduled program "Judge Judy" (KDKA was second, WTAE third). The same ranking order prevailed at 5 p.m. But at 6 p.m., WTAE was on top, followed by KDKA second and WPXI third.

At 11 p.m., WPXI and WTAE both extended their newscasts to one hour, although there didn't seem to be much need. Neither station had many new details in the second half-hour. In the first half-hour at 11 p.m. Channel 11 came in first, followed by KDKA second and WTAE third.

SWEET IRONY: Last week's episode of The WB's "Popular" featured a high school student trying desperately to save a lobster from being consumed at a mom-and-pop restaurant.

Which commercial aired during the program? A Red Lobster ad for the chain's Lobsterfest.

OUTCOME: My "Homefront" crusade didn't do much for TV Land's ratings. Last weekend's 48-hour marathon was the lowest rated in recent months. I can understand how a "China Beach" marathon might draw more viewers, but "Emergency"?

TV Land deserves a big thank you for putting "Homefront" back on the air (it currently airs weekdays at noon), although I wish the network wouldn't have steamrolled "Homefront's" end-credit newsreels with programming announcement voice-overs.

Oh, well, on to the next crusade. Help me choose another old show to get back on the air. "Freaks and Geeks" is excluded because an announcement about that show's cable afterlife will probably be made soon. Right now I'm leaning in the direction of the 1997-1998 ABC drama "Nothing Sacred."

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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