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These shows deserve better viewership

Sunday, December 31, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Time to level with you.

This is the third time I've made the year's last TV Week cover story a list of suggested New Year's resolutions for the television networks.

But my primary goal isn't to tell networks what to do (they're not going to listen anyway). No, that's just an excuse to put a picture on the TV Week cover that's from a low-rated, quality series. To give ink to a show that's not watched by enough viewers, that needs a boost to stay on the air.

Two years ago, I put "Sports Night" on the cover. Last year, it was "Freaks and Geeks." So far my track record isn't that great. Both shows were canceled, although at least "Sports Night" lived long enough to have a second year.

So far this season, the networks are showing a surprising amount of patience (or maybe it's just because the season started late). CBS renewed all of its fall series for additional episodes. ABC didn't have many new shows to start with, but its one drama with potential, "Gideon's Crossing," is still on the air. NBC gave "Ed" a better shot on Wednesdays, and The WB can afford to show patience with "Gilmore Girls."

With its colorful characters of surprising depth and smart writing, "Gilmore Girls" deserved the cover this year, even though it's not in imminent danger of cancellation (although facing off against "Survivor: The Australian Outback" next month won't help).

Now, onto my secondary goal: suggestions for the networks as we embark on 2001:

ABC

Last year Regis was the rage. This year "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" is on a downward ratings trajectory because younger viewers have tired of the game show. Those left watching, primarily older viewers, aren't as valuable to advertisers. That means ABC needs to find a new strategy quick.

It's inconceivable that "The Geena Davis Show" will be part of that strategy. Send Davis back to the archery range.

On the other hand, cleverly crude "Norm" has never gotten the treatment it deserves from ABC. "The Drew Carey Show" is aging, and "Norm" could be just the male-skewing comedy to take its place if ABC nurtures "Norm" better. A Friday night time slot has done "Norm" no favors.

As for "Gideon's Crossing," it's generous of ABC to give it a chance next month on Monday nights, but I'm not holding my breath that it will succeed.

CBS

Despite renewing all its new series, "Survivor: The Australian Outback" can't arrive soon enough for CBS. The network's demographic ratings are abysmal again, just as they were before "Survivor" and "Big Brother" last summer.

Among new series, "Welcome to New York" has turned into a gem, but its ratings are even lower than "Bette." Too bad; "New York" deserves to live more than any other CBS freshman sitcom.

Among new dramas, CBS should forget about "The Fugitive." It's running in place.

Fox

"The $treet" stunk. "Normal, Ohio" was just that - ordinary. "Freakylinks" wasn't freaky enough.

Time to call in the midseason replacements. If the new sitcom "Grounded for Life" works on Wednesdays in January, Fox would be wise to move "Malcolm in the Middle" to lead off that night. Then there would be room on Sunday for "The Tick," a hilarious live action comedy about an addled superhero. "The Tick" would thrive nestled between "The Simpsons" and "The X-Files."

And would someone at Fox please tell David E. Kelley to bring "Boston Public" back into the realm of reality? "Boston Public" has the potential to be a quality drama, but its excesses render it unbelievable as often as it's on-target.

NBC

"Ed" aside, NBC's new shows have been one disaster after another. This network needs a new hit - and sooner rather than later.

No wonder NBC Entertainment president Garth Ancier got fired earlier this month. The question now becomes whether or not his successor, former "Today" show executive producer Jeff Zucker, can learn how to program prime time quickly enough, lest he meet the same fate as Ancier.

UPN

The Monday night comedy block is working nicely in the ratings, and "Star Trek: Voyager" continues to draw viewers even though it went creatively bankrupt years ago. But UPN's Friday night action dramas failed to catch fire.

Not sure there's much on this network worth saving.

The WB

It's all about "Gilmore Girls." This family drama has been a slow starter in the ratings, but it's the kind of series that can grow into a hit (it took time for "7th Heaven" to become the network's top-rated series).

"Grosse Pointe" also deserves a longer life, but I think The WB is almost ready to give up on it if its ratings don't perk up soon. Even so, it remains the fall's best comedy.

Too bad "Popular" lost its rhythm. Since returning this fall, the comedy-drama has never equaled the inspired craziness of its first year, devolving into just another teen soap.

"Nikki" could be a building block for the future, but "Hype" didn't live up to its name, relying too often on crude easy jokes.


You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.



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