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Owen: NBC's 'Cursed' better than name suggests

Thursday, October 26, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Here's the thing about NBC's much-tinkered-with sitcom "Cursed": I didn't think it was all that bad in its original form.

Centered on a guy who gets cursed by a woman after a rocky blind date, the initial "Cursed" pilot was broader than most NBC Thursday night sitcoms. But it wasn't stink-up-the-joint-bad like "The Michael Richards Show."

No matter, NBC decided to fire the initial show runners and give the show a makeover.

The new "Cursed," premiering tonight at 8:30 on WPXI, contains only 40 percent of the scenes from the first pilot. For the most part, new executive producers Adam Chase and Ira Ungerleider kept the funniest scenes and wrote new ones to concentrate more on the characters and less on the kooky plot.

The new "Cursed" is more grounded in reality, less dependent on the supernatural and probably a better fit with NBC's other Thursday night comedies.

Two weeks after breaking up with Melissa (Amy Pietz), his longtime girlfriend, Jack Nagel (Steven Weber) thinks he's got his life on track. Aside from his mooching doctor friend Larry (Chris Elliott), who's been "temporarily" living with him for five months, Jack is happy. He likes his job, gets along with his co-worker Wendell (Wendell Pierce) and is about to get a big promotion.

Then he makes the mistake of going on a blind date with a woman who talks. And talks. And talks some more. Actually, she doesn't talk as much in the new pilot (too much was trimmed, lessening the comic effect), but she still babbles enough that it's understandable when, at the end of the date, Jack politely ends their nascent relationship.

The woman yanks out a hair from Jack's head, speaks five words in Greek and proclaims him cursed for life. Whether or not he's actually cursed remains nebulous, but bad luck tends to follow him afterwards.

The first pilot left me with a sense of "now what?" But with the new scenes filmed for tonight's premiere, the future direction of "Cursed" is more clear. It's probably more conventional, too, but with this high-caliber cast, that might be OK.

Viewers fondly remember Weber from "Wings" and Pietz, perhaps less fondly, from "Caroline in the City." Pierce, though not as well known, made a good impression in the underappreciated "Gregory Hines Show" a few seasons back.

And wherever there's Elliott, weird humor is sure to follow. Elliott, who has a cult following from his 1990 Fox sitcom "Get a Life," always plays a certifiable nutcase. The biggest joke in "Cursed": Elliott plays a doctor. He's also Jack's roommate and viewers first see him lounging around the apartment, wearing only a sweater.

Tonight's "Cursed" is by no means a sitcom masterpiece, but it has its moments and shows potential. Most importantly, "Cursed" doesn't live down to its title (which almost begs for a pan), and the show is easily more enjoyable than "Daddio," "Jesse" or any of the other subpar sitcoms to occupy the post-"Friends" time slot in recent years.

CANCELED: See, good things can happen to bad TV.

The first casualties of the 2000-01 season are NBC's Monday night terrible twosome, "Daddio" and "Tucker."

The network yanked the comedies from the schedule after Monday's ratings-challenged broadcast, pre-empted in Pittsburgh by a locally produced magic special. (You can catch one last glimpse of the pair at 7 p.m. Saturday on Channel 11.)

Another "Dateline NBC" will air at 8 p.m. beginning this Monday.

"AMERICAN HIGH" LIVES ON PBS: Fox's superior high school docudrama "American High" will get a second chance this spring on PBS.

Fox canceled the critically acclaimed program after just two weeks in August, but PBS announced this week it will broadcast all 14 of the show's 27-minute episodes (expanded by three minutes from when they aired on Fox) beginning in April. Two episodes will air back-to-back each week, with the second episode of week one repeating as the first episode in week two.

Academy Award-nominated documentarian R.J. Cutler ("The War Room" and "A Perfect Candidate") filmed "American High" at a suburban Chicago high school during the 1999-2000 school year.

"BULL" TURNS BEAR: TNT's Wall Street drama "Bull" went into rerun hibernation after this week's episode. Reruns of the first 11 episodes begin at 10 p.m Tuesday. Despite bearish ratings, new episodes of "Bull" return Jan. 16.

STERN GETS EARLIER SLOT: Ah, synergy. With the Viacom-CBS merger offering duopolies in markets like Pittsburgh, the merged company has twice as many places to put on their shows.

Beginning Saturday, the syndicated "Howard Stern Radio Show" moves from KDKA to WNPA, where it will air at 11 p.m. opposite "Mad TV." The second half of Stern's hourlong show will compete against the first half-hour of NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

Previously, "Howard Stern" was buried in late night, airing at 12:35 a.m. A KDKA spokesman defended the earlier start time on WNPA.

"The program is still in late fringe," said Mike Karas, KDKA director of research and programming. "The airing of it at 12:35 was dictated by prior programming commitments in the time period."

Some CBS-owned stations broadcast Stern at 11:35 p.m. following the late news.

In addition to Stern's program, "The Cindy Margolis Show" will air at midnight on WNPA and a second time at 2:35 a.m. on KDKA.

KDKA's Saturday late night lineup will include "The Outer Limits" at 11:35 p.m., "The X-Files" at 12:35 a.m. and "Early Edition" at 1:35 a.m.

ATTRIBUTION, PLEASE: During Monday's 5 p.m. news on Channel 11, the station reported children picked Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush over Democratic candidate Al Gore, 55 percent to 45 percent.

But WPXI failed to credit the poll to Nickelodeon, which conducted the voting through its Linda Ellerbee-produced program, "Nick News." Nickelodeon is not part of either the NBC or Cox media empires, but giving credit where it's due is not only right, it would also erase questions the unattributed report raised.

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 TV Forum.



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