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Tuned In: 'Once and Again' fans jam 'Remote' ballot box

Thursday, April 18, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

It's that time of year when fans come out of the woodwork to beg support for their favorite shows.

Die-hard "Once and Again" viewers have sent e-mail encouraging me to excoriate ABC for canceling the drama. They've stuffed the ballot box in the Post-Gazette's Readers' Remote: Keep or Cancel? poll (www.post-gazette.com/tv), ensuring their fave will likely be disqualified.

I've heard from a woman who wants me to fight for a syndicated show called "Tracker." Another viewer wants me to get on board a campaign for a "Moonlighting" reunion.

("Tracker" I've never even seen, and a "Moonlighting" reunion won't happen until Bruce Willis' career hits rock bottom.)

Heck, I even got e-mail from actress Mimi Kennedy, who plays the mother of Dharma on ABC's "Dharma & Greg," wanting attention for the onetime hit that's now in danger of cancellation.

As a fan of many prematurely canceled shows, I sympathize. I remember pounding my fists on the family room carpet as an eighth-grader when I read in The Washington Post that NBC had canceled the sci-fi-aliens-who-eat-rodents show "V." Let me emphasize, I was in eighth grade, the target demo for "V."

Just a few years ago, I wrote indignantly about AMC's decision to cancel Pittsburgh-set "Remember WENN" without resolving a cliffhanger. I probably still hold a little bit of a grudge against that network. People get emotional about their shows. I understand that.

For Mimi Kennedy, it's a matter of preserving a paycheck and getting a show back to its roots. Frankly, it's refreshing to hear from an actor who cares about the creative direction of her show. In my experience, most actors are much less interested in the shows they star in than the fans are.

"Dharma & Greg" (8 p.m. Tuesdays, ABC) has stumbled in recent seasons as writers took the series down overly dramatic paths that didn't reflect the show's original spirit (e.g. Dharma almost has an affair, a season-ender with Dharma in a serious car accident, etc.). The sitcom got away from the generation and culture gap between Dharma, Greg and their families in a misguided attempt to woo young viewers, who are prized by advertisers. Instead, many fans bailed.

"They keep trying to chase young people with young people, and, without context, it's just more claptrap with Gap clothes," Kennedy wrote. "The four older actors represent 200 years of acting experience with everyone from Sid Caesar to Jason Robards to Cary Grant, and there aren't many TV shows that bring that to the screen. When they write for us, the experience and seasoning shows."

Kennedy said she's pleased with upcoming episodes that get back to the elements that made "Dharma & Greg" a hit in the first place.

"I'd like to get some attention so that, if we do come back, ABC would have a clue as to one of the reasons people like it and would not marginalize that strength again."

Though I appreciate her frustration, "Dharma & Greg" has had a solid five-year run, so I won't be too upset if this is the end.

I have a similar reaction to "Once and Again." I don't share the moral outrage of fans for some simple reasons. Most importantly, "Once and Again" was on the air for three years. That's more of a chance than most series get.

Fans cry foul against ABC, but "Once and Again" would never have lasted beyond one season if it hadn't been produced by a sister company.

For a show with as low ratings as "Once and Again," managing to stay in production for three years is a huge success. And let's face it, most dramas run out of worthwhile stories after four years anyway.

Here's more evidence ABC bent over backwards for the show: After cutting the episode order from 23 to 17 this season, something that happened to several shows, ABC gave producers permission to film two additional episodes to wrap up the stories (Monday's conclusion had a rewarding, if bittersweet, ending). That kind of respect is almost unheard of in the current network environment.

Most importantly, television is not a democracy. It's a business and, despite a sense of entitlement that permeates many of the letters I receive, viewers do not have a right to new episodes of any show. That may seem harsh, but it's reality.

It's also true that, despite the feeling so many people have that anytime they get hooked on a show, it's bound to get canceled, most of the highest-rated shows on television are high-quality programs.

That's not to say I can't carp about cancellations with the best of them. But call me when there's a show that really gets unfair treatment, like ABC's one-season wonder "My So-Called Life" (from the "Once and Again" creators) or, more recently, Fox's creepy sudser "Pasadena."

Fox aired three episodes of "Pasadena" last fall and pulled the series from the schedule, vowing it would return. It won't. Fox has decided not to burn off the series this summer, despite having a complete story and resolution to the central murder mystery that gets wrapped up in the 13 episodes produced.

So which on-the-fence shows deserve viewer support for a second season? My votes go to Fox's "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" (8:30 p.m. Tuesdays), CBS's "The Agency" (10 p.m. Thursdays) and ABC's "Philly" (10 p.m. Tuesdays). I'd also endorse Fox's "24" (9 p.m. Tuesdays) if producers promise not to destroy the show by reinventing it.

Excellent episodes

Sunday's Christmas-themed episode of HBO's "Six Feet Under" (9 p.m.) is particularly well written, flashing back to the death of pop Fisher. It's a thematically cohesive hour that also moves forward several long-percolating plots.

Earlier the same night, the season finale of "Futurama" (7 p.m., Fox) is a veritable "Star Trek" convention as William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig give voice to their animated selves.

Tuesday's "The Shield" (10 p.m., FX), which continues to impress, is also full of surprises.

After a month of reruns, we're about to be inundated with good TV. There's only more to come -- May sweeps begins a week from today.

'Today' reports on PSAs

A two-part feature earlier this month on "Today" about the history of public service announcements failed to report on their diminishing presence on both local stations and national networks.

What's worse, most PSAs are now sponsored, meaning stations slap on the logo of a company that's already buying commercials on the station as a "value added" feature. So much for the "public service" part of PSAs. That wasn't mentioned in the "Today" report either.

Baby watch

WPXI morning anchor Newlin Archinal gave birth last Thursday to a baby girl, Scarlett Chandler.

Weekend morning anchor Stacia Erdos will fill in weekdays during Archinal's maternity leave. On weekend mornings, reporters will replace Erdos; Steve Chenevey on Saturday, Natasha Brown on Sunday.

Next up: Weekend anchor Jodine Costanzo is due early next month. Keith Jones will anchor solo during her maternity leave.

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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