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Fall lineup changes to test loyal viewers

Thursday, May 31, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Television programmers seem determined to anger viewers. How else to explain some of this fall's programming moves?

As if it weren't tough enough when CBS put "Survivor" against NBC's "Friends" and "CSI" against "Will & Grace," this fall The WB's "Gilmore Girls" will compete with UPN's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

NBC's "Frasier" will tangle with ABC's "Bob Patterson," a new sitcom starring "Seinfeld" alum Jason Alexander. And UPN's "Roswell" will face off against The WB's new Superman series, "Smallville."

But that's not the worst case of defeatist counter-programming.

If you're a fan of ABC's "NYPD Blue" and NBC's "Law & Order," this fall you'll have to choose between the two. ABC will move "Blue" out of its Tuesday night berth into the line of fire of "Law" at 10 p.m. Wednesday.

"We put 'NYPD Blue' on Wednesday night because we felt that was the way to put out the most competitive schedule we possibly could," said Lloyd Bruan, ABC Entertainment Television group co-chairman.

"Blue" producer Steven Bochco is, well, blue about the move.

"It's an enormously risky move for ['Blue']," Bochco told Daily Variety last week. "There's no way we're going to do the same business Wednesdays at 10 as we did on Tuesdays."

As a fan, I share Bochco's concern. But because "Blue" is getting displaced for the new Bochco series "Philly," I can't feel too badly for the guy.

Nor can I muster much sympathy for Barbara Walters, who has been whining about "20/20" losing its hallowed 10 p.m. Friday time slot and what a hit it is to ABC's news division. It's not as if she does much serious journalism these days.

Until December, "20/20" will be replaced by "Once and Again" on Fridays at 10, a move that might seem suicidal to some. But remember, quality dramas "Picket Fences" and "Homicide: Life on the Street" were able to survive on Friday. It's better than the alternative: ABC's Braun said "Once" almost didn't get renewed.

"It was close, but we all love this show and believe in the show and felt we had not exhausted every avenue to grow the show into a hit," Braun said in a teleconference with reporters last week. "We're hopeful it's going to be able to do that now."

Because fewer viewers watch TV Friday night, expecting the show to become a hit might be asking too much. Then again, "CSI" became a Friday night hit when it premiered last fall.

"We think the way Friday is structured, with a lead-in like it hasn't had in the past and the way the competition is laid out, all those factors together will give the show a chance to breathe in a way it hasn't had," Braun said.

As for fans of "Blue" and "Law & Order"? Well, you've got almost four months to learn how to set the timer on your VCR.



FOX LOOSE ENDS: Fox has a habit of announcing series that never premiere. So far the network hasn't yanked any of the new series it announced for its fall schedule last week, but there's still an M.I.A. show announced a year ago.

In a conference call with reporters last week, Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman said the dark-themed anthology series "Night Visions" will air sometime this summer.

Other programs sitting on the shelf that may get a summer time slot include the "reality" show "Love Cruise," an update of "In Search Of" and possibly seven episodes of a scuttled romantic drama series created by Glen Gordon Caron ("Moonlighting," "Now and Again") if Fox can't find another network to buy it.



GETTING UPN: Last week, I suggested viewers who didn't like the reception of UPN on area cable systems might subscribe to satellite TV instead. No dice.

DirecTV used to offer packages that gave viewers access to UPN affiliates from other regions, but that's no longer the case unless a subscriber qualifies under stringent criteria -- based on signal strength, not picture quality -- established by the FCC.

A DISH Network spokesman did not return a call for clarification before deadline.

Currently neither satellite TV subscription service offers Pittsburgh's UPN affiliate, WNPA. That could change in January when satellite services are required by law to carry all full-power local channels, although satellite providers are contesting that law.



MAYBE THEY'RE GETTING BETTER: Don't think I'm turning into a softie, but our local stations are doing fewer stupid sweeps stories. I'd been thinking about this after February sweeps, but the point hit home last week when a critic from another market called to ask about the goofiest local sweeps stories I'd seen in May. Nothing hugely egregious came to mind.

I even liked the recent Jim Parsons investigative report on WTAE about invention promotion companies. Unlike some investigative stories that rely too much on the bombast of the reporter, Parsons logically laid out the myths and realities associated with making money from inventions when using an inventions promotions company.

My only quibble: Parsons invented a hat for a cell phone that he seemed to think was ridiculous. Indeed, it looked stupid, but looking silly never stopped a fashion trend from sweeping the nation.


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

Thursday, May 24, 2001

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