Watched or not: Networks may ax some great shows

Thanks to Jennifer007 for sending this in!

From: Contra Costa Times
by Chuck Barney

TV roulette

Watched or not: Networks may ax some great shows

PICTURE THIS: Lined up, with their backs to the wall, are several scrawny,
sadly neglected Phys-Ed students. While the very indifferent team captains
methodically stock their lineups, these sad sacks wait there in nervous
agony, crying out inside:

“Pick me! Pick me!”

It could easily be a scene from the poignant high school dramedy “Freaks and
Geeks.” But it’s also analogous to the television program selection process.
With a little more than two months left in the season, networks are busy
weeding out their ratings weaklings.

That means plenty of shows now find themselves on the proverbial bubble
between renewal and cancellation — a purgatorylike state in which their fate
will be determined by the strength of new pilots and ratings reports during
the coming weeks. Pink slips start going out in May.

On NBC, sturdy rookie shows like “The West Wing,” “Third Watch” and “Law &
Order: Special Victims Unit” already have earned spots on the roster for next
season. Meanwhile, the critically adored but Nielsen-starved “Freaks and
Geeks” is forced to sweat it out.

Other NBC shows that could be in trouble include “Veronica’s Closet,”
“Suddenly Susan” and “Stark Raving Mad.” The latter series earns good ratings
as part of the network’s Thursday-night “Must See” lineup, but drops a
whopping 21 percent from its “Frasier” lead-in.

ABC, meanwhile, reigns as the No. 1 network, but still may not want to lug
around an underachieving player like “Sports Night” for another season. Also
on the ABC bubble is the vapid sitcom “Two Guys and a Girl.”

CBS is pondering the future of “Early Edition,” “Martial Law” and “Chicago
Hope,” while beleaguered Fox could give the ax to “Party of Five,” Jennifer
Love Hewitt’s “Time of Your Life,” “Get Real” and “Family Guy.”

Over at the little weblets, the WB’s “Roswell” and even “Felicity” are in
serious trouble, and on UPN, “Dilbert” is shaky and “Shasta McNasty” looks
like a sure goner.

Of course, some shows will hardly be missed. Whenever “Shasta” departs, it
will do so with a heartfelt “good riddance” from this viewer. Meanwhile,
“Veronica’s Closet” has used up its nausea quotient.

Then there are shows such as “Party of Five” that have enjoyed a
distinguished run, but should ease into retirement before their glory days
are but a blurry memory.

Every year, though, there are a few young, vibrant on-the-bubble shows that
have plenty of creative juice in them. But for various reasons, they’ve
struggled to gain viewer attention.

That short list this spring is topped by “Freaks and Geeks” and “Sports
Night.” Good arguments can also be made for “Roswell” and “Get Real.” They’re
shows that deserve to survive but may not.

“Freaks and Geeks” (8 p.m. Monday, channels 3 and 4) has the strongest case
of all. Here’s a class act that resists convention and Hollywood styling as
it wonderfully embodies all the contradictions, oddities and hopes and fears
of high-school life. The show is set in 1980, but has a timeless resonance.
The cast is superb. The writing is heartwarming and funny.

Those qualities should make “Freaks and Geeks” a can’t-miss proposition.
Obviously, though, smart and frank exploration of teen angst doesn’t always
translate into mass appeal.

But it also hasn’t helped that the show has been victimized by NBC
programmers. “Freaks and Geeks” premiered in September on Saturday, the
least-watched night of TV. It was off the air for three weeks after its
second episode. It was then on for three weeks and off for four while being
switched to Monday. During February sweeps, it was missing in action.

Is that any way to build momentum?

The show experienced its third “relaunch” this week, and NBC execs have said
they’re committed to an uninterrupted eight-episode run to get a sustained
gauge on audience acceptance. Still, it may be too late.

The case for ABC’s “Sports Night” (9:30 p.m. Tuesday, channels 7, 10 and 11)
is slightly less compelling, if only because it has had nearly two full
seasons to prove itself. Like “Freaks and Geeks,” “Sports Night” is a show
that dares to be different and consistently rewards discerning viewers.

Created by Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”), “Sports Night” is urbane and
charming, deep and rhythmic. Although it has had its uneven moments this
season, it’s still the sleekest, smartest workplace show on TV.

But no one is watching — or at least not enough people to keep it off the
endangered species list. Why? You can’t blame the schedule. ABC now has it
riding on the coattails of the “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” Goliath.

I used to think the glib, syncopated — and sometimes tedious — wordplay of
“Sports Night” might be a viewer repellent, but Sorkin and his crew have
eased up this season. If anything, the show is more accessible than ever.

ABC will give “Sports Night” a solid run right up until the May sweeps,
during which it will get banished to the bench. If ABC doesn’t renew the
series for next season, there is talk that it could end up on another network
or possibly even HBO.

As for “Roswell” (9 p.m. Wednesday, channels 20 and 58), the spirited teen
drama about aliens hiding out in a New Mexico high school, started in October
as one of fall’s most promising series. Five months later, it ranks 128th in
the ratings with a measly average viewership of 3.8 million.

“Roswell” has been undermined by an all-encompassing malaise at the WB. Plus,
it faces strong competition on Wednesday nights against “The West Wing” and
“The Drew Carey Show” (ABC). That’s too bad because “Roswell” contains an
intriguing blend of suspense and romance that’s hard to resist if you give in
to the fantasy.

The WB, looking to shake things up, will move “Roswell” to Monday nights
beginning April 3. The network also reportedly plans to revamp the series by
playing up the sci-fi angle (here’s hoping they don’t tinker too much).
Meanwhile, “Felicity,” which has gone into a Nielsen nosedive, will move from
Sunday to “Roswell’s” former spot on Wednesday.

“Get Real” (9 p.m., Wednesdays, channels 2 and 40) is the final show on my
list of keepers. My argument for this offbeat family drama would have been
much more passionate early in the season, before the series became a bit too
earnest and not as humorous.

Still, I’m pulled in by the multigenerational dynamics of the show, its
visual quirkiness and the solid ensemble acting. “Get Real” probably would
have been a goner by now if Fox didn’t have so many gaping holes in its
schedule.

Instead, it will finish out the season and then join the group of overlooked
outcasts with their backs against the wall.

Put it in writing
The 2000 fall TV schedules will be announced in May, so this is the time of
the year when passionate viewers should be sending out an SOS (Save Our Show)
to the network head honchos. Some helpful hints:

Write BEFORE the show is canceled. It does no good to complain after the fact.

Handwritten letters carry way more weight than typed letters or e-mail. Keep
your correspondence from looking like a computer-generated mass mailing.

Keep it concise. One page is enough.

Voice your concern in a civil manner. Nasty rants and raves are quickly
dismissed.

Networks value demographic info. So include your age, occupation, number of
children, etc.

If your passion knows no bounds, consider writing your local affiliate and
the show’s sponsors as well.

Here’s a rundown of addresses:

ABC
Stu Bloomberg
ABC Entertainment President
2040 Avenue of the Stars
Los Angeles, CA 90067

CBS
Leslie Moonves
CBS President and CEO
7800 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Fox
Doug Herzog
Fox Entertainment President
P.O. Box 900
Beverly Hills, CA 90213

NBC
Garth Ancier
NBC Entertainment President
3000 W. Alameda Ave.
Burbank, CA 91523

UPN
Dean Valentine
UPN President and CEO
11800 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025

WB
Susanne Daniels
WB Entertainment President
4000 Warner Blvd., Building 34 R
Burbank, CA 91522

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