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Tuned In: NBC's 'must-see' night has cursed hole to fill

Thursday, October 12, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Tonight, NBC's popular Thursday night lineup returns, but there's one piece missing: A sitcom for 8:30 p.m. A second original "Friends" will air in that time slot tonight. Next week, a second "Will & Grace" will fill the hole.

The new series intended for 8:30 Thursday, "Cursed," won't premiere until Oct. 26. That's because so far "Cursed" has lived up to its title -- its second title.

Called "Cursed" while in development, the show was announced as part of the fall lineup in May as "The Steven Weber Show." Then it was rechristened "Cursed."

Despite a pilot that received high marks from test audiences this spring, trouble began when scripts started coming in over the summer. NBC executives read them and evidently started to get a queasy feeling. This is the network that proudly renewed "Daddio" and even more proudly paired it with "Tucker." If the "Cursed" scripts made these folks nervous, you know the writing was bad.

In the original pilot, Steven Weber played a man who went on a blind date, tried to end it amicably and found himself cursed by his date. Bad luck began to befall him at every turn. Some of it involved a clown.

In a conference call with TV critics Tuesday, newly installed executive producer Adam Chase said the show's premise has been altered slightly. The curse will no longer be handled quite so literally.

Then Chase got called off the line by a publicist for what we can only guess was some sort of NBC re-education program. While TV writers waited for a brainwashed Chase to return, we compiled a list of lame NBC shows that premiered on Thursday night: "Jesse," "Union Square," "The Single Guy," "Suddenly Susan," "Veronica's Closet," "Fired Up," etc.

Chase got back on the line a few minutes later along with NBC Entertainment president Garth Ancier and another executive producer, Ira Ungerleider.

"We're looking at the curse more metaphorically now," Chase said. "From our point of view, you can look at everyone's life as cursed. Life is hard for everyone, but life will be a little harder for this guy. He'll ask, 'Why me?' a lot."

That's probably what "Cursed's" original executive producers are asking. Although Ancier had concerns about the future of the show under the direction of Mitchel Katlin and Nat Bernstein, he wanted to see the taping of the first post-pilot episode in early September. After that, Ancier didn't dally.

"We made the decision that night to make a change," Ancier said, adding that what was intended to be the second episode will never air. More than half of the pilot will be refilmed next week. "There was nothing wrong with [the show] per se, it was just a little too broad and too silly for our tastes. It had to be smarter and more character driven. It was a little too farcical for this particular cast and time period."

Katlin and Bernstein got the boot, and NBC scrambled. Ancier said the network liked the cast (including Amy Pietz from "Caroline in the City" and Chris Elliott of "Get a Life") and wanted to keep them together. Enter new show runners Chase and Ungerleider, who worked as writers on "Friends" (good sign) and later worked on "Jesse" (bad sign).

Now everyone involved with "Cursed" is singing a happy tune, claiming that scripts are improved and the cast is happy with the new direction. It's almost as if a curse has been lifted.

We'll see.

"CITY OF ANGELS": Steven Bochco's "City of Angels" (9 p.m., CBS) returns tonight with a greater sense of urgency, not only in the drama of the show, but also the need to get decent enough ratings to stay on the air.

"City of Angels" premiered in January to much publicity for its cast of predominantly black actors. But the drama was relatively bland, and many critics complained about the wooden acting of Vivica A. Fox as the hospital's medical director.

Fox is gone, but Blair Underwood remains as the show's lead character, Dr. Ben Turner. Tonight's episode spends more time in the emergency room and focuses on some of the supporting female characters who didn't get much screen time last season.

Sadly, the reason "City of Angels" focuses on the women tonight is that a rapist stalks the hospital hallways, violating female staffers. It's pretty sensational and unnecessary. The rapist is revealed to the audience early on, so there's no mystery, just nervousness every time the rapist gets near any of the women.

"City of Angels" definitely gets more serious this season, forsaking the cheeky Bochcoisms (a patient with a Golden Globe lodged in his rectum, for instance) for darker drama. It's improved, but not must-see TV opposite NBC's Must-See TV.

P.S. For the second time this week, a former "Homicide: Life on the Street" cast member is trading in his badge for a scalpel. First Andre Braugher premiered in ABC's "Gideon's Crossing." Tonight, Kyle Secor checks into "City of Angels" as plastic surgeon Dr. Raleigh Stewart.

SICK, SICK, SICK: In yet another sign of the apocalypse, Fox announced plans yesterday to broadcast a special titled "I Want a Divorce." The network is seeking six couples who have already filed for divorce to compete "for ownership of their assets -- as well as $100,000."

Will this network -- which already caused an uproar with "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?" -- stop at nothing to debase decent human values?

The network is seeking applicants at 866-522-2221 -- not that I'm encouraging anyone to audition to have a sad, intimately personal proceeding broadcast to the nation.

When you call that number, an announcer says, "You've reached the prime-time network special that could turn your divorce into a fun way to win big money and a fair way to split your assets."

Since when is divorce fun? In its pursuit of ratings, the Fox network is willing to sink to disgusting and shameless depths. And so are the people who apply to be on this program.

HICCUPS HOUND ANCHOR: If I ever injure my hands, I'll be in trouble when it's time to type a column. So I can only imagine how frustrated WTAE news anchor Scott Baker feels, suffering from hiccups that lasted on and off for more than 10 days.

Baker started hiccuping Sept. 30 and thought he'd finally stopped on Monday. Then the hiccups returned. As of yesterday afternoon, Baker's hiccups had been gone since 11 p.m. Tuesday.

During his ordeal, Baker saw two doctors, took medicine, sat out some newscasts and fielded suggestions for cures from viewers (holding his breath, breathing into a bag, etc.).

"It was all kind of amusing for the first two or three days," Baker said. "Since then, it has become increasingly less amusing because it really hurts because all of my muscles are worn out. It's bizarre."

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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