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NBC renews 'Ed,' digs in for 'Survivor'

Thursday, January 11, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- NBC hasn't done much right this season, but the network made a good move yesterday, renewing freshman comedy-drama "Ed" for a second season.

"We look forward to 'Ed' becoming a major part of our schedule," said NBC West Coast president Scott Sassa.

The network also renewed the daytime soap "Passions" for another year and re-upped the Saturday morning teen dramedy "Just Deal" for 13 more episodes.

That's the good news for NBC. The bad news? In the coming months, the network will be warding off "Survivor: The Australian Outback," which begins going head-to-head with "Friends" on Thursdays next month. NBC executives aren't yet ready to announce what will air at 8:30 p.m. ("The Weber Show" was yanked for the duration of February sweeps), but they said "Friends" will survive the challenge.

To improve its chances, expect a spate of promotions for special guest stars on "Friends," including Susan Sarandon as a soap opera diva who works with Joey and Jason Alexander as a suicidal man Phoebe talks to when she takes a job as a telemarketer.

CBS president Les Moonves said airing "Survivor 2" on Thursdays made business sense and wasn't about stomping on NBC.

"Since the day I walked into CBS, I've been dreaming of blowing 'Friends' off the air," Moonves joked. "That is absolutely not the case. This is not an anti-NBC move. Thursday was our weakest night. We haven't been competitive on Thursday since 'Knots Landing.' "

On Tuesday CBS announced "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" will move to 9 p.m. Thursday on Feb. 1, where it will air after "Survivor 2." "Diagnosis Murder" will air Fridays at 8 p.m., with "The Fugitive" moving to 9 p.m.

NBC executives expressed confidence that "CSI," a hit in its first season, won't draw too many viewers away from "Will & Grace."

"It's drama against comedy, so I think we'll do well there," Sassa said.

In addition to the sitcom "Three Sisters," which premiered earlier this week, NBC's midseason series include:

"First Years" (date and time to be announced) -- The lives and loves of law school graduates are the subject of this comedy-drama, based on the BBC series "This Life."

"Kristin" (date and time to be announced) -- Chirpy, petite Kristin Chenowith stars as an aspiring actress with morals(!) who works as an assistant to an unscrupulous New York businessman. She tries to redeem him; he tries to corrupt her. Chenowith has spunk, so if you hate spunk, you'll hate "Kristin." I found myself liking Chenowith better the longer I watched, but the show needs work.

ANOTHER "BROTHER" LIKELY: Along with a third and fourth "Survivor," CBS's Moonves said "there's a real good chance we'll be doing 'Big Brother' part two during the summer." He defended the show's ratings last year, if not its reputation.

"I'm not going to accept 'Big Brother' didn't do so well; it did just fine," Moonves said. "It improved our summer ratings and demos, and the last episode of 'Big Brother' beat the Olympics. That's doing well. Granted, qualitatively, the show was not nearly as good as we would have liked."

One hole CBS will have to fill after this season is on Saturday nights. "Walker, Texas Ranger" will end its run this season, although Moonves said CBS will make "Walker" movies in the future.

Aside from "Survivor 2," other midseason series on CBS include:

"Big Apple" (date and time to be announced) -- Ed O'Neill ("Married ... With Children") stars in this New York-set police drama from "NYPD Blue" writer David Milch. It explores the relationships between New York cops and FBI agents.

"Kate Brasher" (date and time to be announced) -- A financially strapped single mom (Mary Stuart Masterson) goes to work for a community outreach agency. Rhea Perlman and Hector Elizondo also star.

"Me and Frankie Z" (date and time to be announced) -- Macho Italian Frankie Z. (Danny Nucci) dreams of being an actor, so he moves to the city and finds a roommate in Warren (Jason Bateman), who is gay. But dim bulb that he is, at first Frankie doesn't realize Warren is gay -- he thinks he's Jewish. "Me and Frankie Z," based on the indie film "Kiss Me, Guido," plays on stereotypes, both Italian and gay, but it's also pretty funny. I'm just not sure it's a show with much inherent appeal to CBS viewers -- it could be this season's "Grapevine." Episodes of "Frankie Z" are directed by Pittsburgh native James Widdoes, who also serves as executive producer.

Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour.

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