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Tuned In: 'Neighborhood' airs only twice a week in NYC

Thursday, January 29, 2004

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The theme this week is TV shows being slighted, running the gamut from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" to "Ed" and "The Guardian."

Last week, David Bianculli of the New York Daily News reported that "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" has not been shown daily on the PBS station in New York City, the nation's No. 1 television market, for almost two years. The show airs twice a week.

David Newell, spokesman for Rogers' Family Communications Inc. and the actor who plays Mr. McFeely, said New York is the only Top 15 market he knows of that doesn't air "Neighborhood" at least five days per week. It's always a concern that stations will drop "Neighborhood," Newell said.

"Obviously, I'd like to get him back on [in New York]," Newell said. "[WNET] is up against a schedule that is bursting [with children's shows], but I think they can find a place somewhere for the 'Neighborhood' five days a week."

Newell said it's especially necessary because the late Rogers created thematic weeks of programming.

"Each program can stand on its own, but Fred wrote them to be symphonic," he said. "They were all woven together in a way. [With only two showings a week,] it's like showing only two parts of a five-part mini-series."

On PBS Kids digital channel -- broadcast on satellite and over-the-air by some PBS stations that transmit multiple digital channel streams -- Rogers' show airs twice daily, once at 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 a.m.

Earlier this month, PBS president Pat Mitchell pledged continued support for "Neighborhood," calling the show "absolutely essential."

"'Mister Rogers' is everything that public television is about, and he will be in public television as long as it's possible for him to be, and I assume that's a very long, long, long time," Mitchell said.

Slighting 'The Guardian'
Since last week's news about CBS's decision to bench the Pittsburgh-set legal drama "The Guardian" after February sweeps for most of March and April, viewers have been calling me to express their dismay.

Although such a move is not welcome, it doesn't necessarily mean the show will be canceled at the end of the current TV season. ABC's "NYPD Blue" has been replaced by midseason series many times, including its current hiatus to make room for "Line of Fire" ("Blue" returns Feb. 10).

But CBS chieftan Leslie Moonves' willingness to call "The Guardian" a "bubble show" -- TV talk for "on the fence" for renewal -- is troubling.

Mt. Lebanon native and "Guardian" creator David Hollander said he's confident the end is not near.

"I don't really believe 'The Guardian' will be canceled [in May]," Hollander said by phone last week. "I think its audience is loyal and large enough, and the show has a lot of creative life left within myself and [series star] Simon [Baker} and the writers and crew and cast. I don't really believe this is a show that needs to, for creative or financial reasons, be taken off the air."

Hollander said he's most concerned about CBS's level of promotional support for "The Guardian" once it returns in late April.

"I have made my concerns and complaints loudly to the network, and they can do with them what they wish," Hollander said. "I'm a guest. I hope that the show will continue, and I'll do everything within my power to make that happen. ... Given the way it's been promoted and presented, I don't think it has been particularly under-perfoming."

Season to date, "The Guardian" ranks No. 38 out of 176 prime-time series. If it is renewed, a move to less competitive Saturday night is a distinct possibility. Although a Saturday placement is one foot in the grave for some CBS series -- Saturday night's "Hack" will almost certainly be canceled in May -- others, like "The District," have existed comfortably on that night for many years.

Hollander said that if "The Guardian" returns for a fourth season, he'll continue at its helm. He recently agreed to a new deal with Sony Pictures that keeps him as the show runner of "The Guardian" for its fourth season. His previous deal was with CBS Productions, which produces "The Guardian" in conjunction with Sony.

Hollander also has a deal with Focus Features to write, produce and direct a film titled "The Mansion on the Hill." He plans to set it and shoot it in Pittsburgh, but the timetable for the film will depend on whether or not "The Guardian" is canceled. If it is, the earliest he'd shoot "Mansion" is probably sometime in 2006.

For now, "The Guardian" remains his primary effort. He defends it against charges that it's grown too dark in recent episodes that featured Nick Fallin (Baker) returning to drugs and cheating on his pregnant girlfriend, Lulu (Wendy Moniz, who is pregnant in real life, a coincidence that didn't dictate the story).

"Just hang with the show," Hollander advised. "Like any character-based show, darkness is going to come, and it is usually followed by brightness. In episodes 16, 17 and 18 in particular you'll see some pretty remarkable turns in the characters and a little more lift in the show."

The Feb. 10 episode will address the Lulu pregnancy, and newly revealed bisexual Jake (Raphael Sbarge) will get a girlfriend. The last two episodes of February sweeps will focus on the disappearance of Shannon, a teenage girl in the care of Burton Fallin (Dabney Coleman).

To write a letter in support of "The Guardian," address it to CBS CEO Leslie Moonves at CBS Entertainment, 7800 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA., 90036.

For tips on what a letter should and should not contain, visit http://sbb. mungbeans. com.au/A267.

Goodbye 'Ed'?
An NBC spokeswoman said no decision has been made, but those promos for "the final two episodes of 'Ed'" -- and not "the final two episodes of the season" -- sure make it sound as if "Ed" will be over after its Feb. 6 season finale.

Squirrel Hill native Jon Beckerman, who created the series with Rob Burnett, said NBC has not given him official word on the show's fate and has until May to do so.

If it is the end of "Ed," the series goes out on a creative high note. It has always been inconsistent in quality, but new writers did a better job this year developing stories for the show's secondary characters.

Miller bores
CNBC's "Dennis Miller" got off to a muted start Monday. The Castle Shannon native seemed strangely unenthusiastic and lacking in energy. He was more entertaining at a Hollywood press conference earlier this month.

Tuesday's show had slightly more spark despite some technical glitches, but the premiere was static and lifeless. Miller's interview with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a love-fest and his "Weekend Update" segment wasn't all that funny. He even used his old sign-off -- "That's the news, and I am out of here" -- but his heart didn't seem to be in it.

Channel surfing
Mt. Lebanon's Matt Kennedy Gould ("The Joe Schmo Show") will co-host the premiere of Spike TV's new game show "10 Things Every Guy Should Experience" (11 p.m. Feb. 2). ... Comcast will tape a comedy special at the Pittsburgh Improv in Homestead today that will air later this year on Comcast cable systems nationwide ... ABC has cut back the number of episodes of drama series "Threat Matrix" from 22 to 16... University of Pittsburgh professor Franklin Toker will discuss his book, "Fallingwater Rising," on C-SPAN's "Book Talk" airing at 11 p.m. Saturday and 8 p.m. Sunday.


You can reach Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com .

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