Fall shows: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out

Fall shows: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out

Diane Holloway

Fall shows: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out

“That Was Then,” ABC’s drama about a thirtysomething guy going back in time to relive his teen years, wins the prize for First Show of the New Season to Go Toes Up — an embarrassing victory, to say the least.

The season is less than a monthold, but early voting suggests pink slips will be flying before Thanksgiving.

ABC’s heavily hyped hybrid “Push, Nevada,” a quirky drama from Ben Affleck with a million-dollar prize gimmick, also is heading for the graveyard after two more episodes. That will give it a total of seven episodes since its Sept. 17 debut — enough for viewers to solve the mystery and win the prize.

And Fox’s “The Grubbs,” about a family of crude underachievers, may never evendebut. “The Grubbs” was to arrive Nov. 3, but the pilot was panned so viciously by critics that Fox is considering dropping it and bringing back “Andy Richter Controls the Universe.”

Clearly, it takes more than bad reviews to kill a show or good reviews to save one. Critics, including yours truly, drooled over “Push,” a mystery about an IRS agent searching for lost millions. Hordes of viewers tuned in for the pilot, but they’ve been fleeing ever since, partly because they’d rather watch CBS’ “CSI” or NBC’s “Will & Grace.”

Ratings are the deciding factor in the life or death of a show. CBS’ “Robbery Homicide Division,” despite having filmmaker Michael Mann at its helm, is looking pretty sick, and soare NBC’s “The In- Laws” and ABC’s “MDs.” And Fox’s eagerly anticipated but deeply troubled “Firefly,” a space Western from the creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” hasn’t caught fire.

But it takes more than just good ratings to keep a show or bad ratings to kill it. A new program might start off with low ratings and start to grow. When that happens, as it did with “Everybody Loves Raymond” a few years ago and “The Guardian” last year, network executives are likely to be patient.

Sometimes even shows with fabulous ratings get the hook. Last year, “Inside Schwartz,” a sitcom about a lovelorn guy, had solid ratings after NBC’s powerhouse “Friends” on Thursdays. But researchers found out peopledidn’t really like “Schwartz”; many kept it on because it came between “Friends” and “Will & Grace.” Others grabbed the remote and fled NBC for 30 minutes.

This season, “Good Morning Miami” is NBC’s highest-rated new sitcom, but it loses more than 2 1/2 million viewers from its lead- in, “Will & Grace,” and has 6 1/2 million fewer viewers than “ER,” the show that comes after it. The network is likely to be patient for a while, but the ebb and flow of “Good Morning Miami’s” audience will be carefully monitored.

ABC, coming off one of the worst seasons of its corporate life, has given a full-season order to “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” “Life with Bonnie” and “Less Than Perfect.” None of those sitcoms is a blockbuster, but they’re picking up steam.

And the WB has already extended the life of its widely praised but relatively low-rated family drama “Everwood.” Though it ranked 82nd out of 128 programs on Nielsen’s latest survey, “Everwood” is the network’s fourth highest-ratedseries overall and No. 1 among the WB’s newcomers. And it’s a nice companion to “7th Heaven,” the WB’s highest rated show.

CBS’ “CSI: Miami,” capitalizing on the popularity of “CSI,” is the highest-rated new series overall, and “Still Standing,” coming after “Everybody Loves Raymond,” is the top-rated new sitcom. Both are shoo- ins for renewal. CBS is also pleased with earlyratings for its missing persons drama “Without a Trace” andthe vigilante drama “Hack.”

NBC has a couple of future hits on Sunday nights, “American Dreams” and “Boomtown,” and is encouraged by early numbers for the whimsical married-life sitcom “Hidden Hills” on Tuesdays.

Fox is pre-empting most of its lineup now for the baseball post- season but sees early promise in “Cedric the Entertainer Presents,” “Fastlane” and “John Doe.”

With prognosticators predicting an unusually tight competition this season, the networks will be fighting for every last pair of eyeballs. In the early going, CBS and NBC are neck-and-neck, with ABC and Fox duking it out behind.

Besides pink slips and replacement series premieres, programmers will be searching for better ratings by moving shows around. If you’ve memorized the prime-time order already, expect to have to start from scratch pretty soon. In the meantime, hang on to the TV listings and remotecontrol.

Copyright Copley Press Inc. 2002

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