‘TIS THE MID-SEASON FOR NEW TV SERIES
When prime-time television’s “second season” begins in January, look for ABC to improve its ground, NBC to show up with an embarrassment of riches and CBS quite possibly to wind up just plain embarrassed.
That’s the scenario suggested by the new series on deck at the three networks. Highlighting the annual New Year’s rite of replacing series will be the returns of Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper, Jack Klugman, Hal Linden and, in spirit, Walt Disney.
Also ready to go are new shows from the hit-makers behind such series as “Murder, She Wrote,” “Cagney & Lacey,” “The A-Team” and “Barney Miller.”
ABC has a particularly strong roster of series-in-waiting--an irony of sorts considering that they were developed under the regime of Lewis Erlicht, who recently was demoted to a lieutenant under new programming chief Brandon Stoddard.
Though Stoddard declined to talk during his transition, industry insiders say ABC is particularly high on six new shows with another five capable of serving as replacements.
The six are: “The Rowdies,” a one-hour action-comedy starring Pat Harrington and Connie Stevens as household security operatives; “Fortune Dane,” from executive producer Barney Rosenzweig (“Cagney & Lacey”) and starring “Rocky’s” Carl Weathers as a trouble-shooter for the mayor of San Francisco; “Perfect Strangers,” a buddy comedy featuring “Beverly Hills Cop” scene-stealer Bronson Pinchot and comedian Louie Anderson; “Joe Bash,” a sitcom about a burned-out cop from “Barney Miller” producer Danny Arnold; “The Disney Sunday Movie,” new one-hour features in the Disney tradition; and “The Eagle and the Bear,” a one-hour comedy-adventure about an ex-KGB man who defects to the United States and teams up with a street-wise private detective.
ABC and Columbia Pictures Television reportedly auditioned numerous Soviet emigres before settling on American Howard Sherman as the comic Russian. “He’s like a fish out of water, like Mork in ‘Mork & Mindy,’ ” one source said. “They’re very high on Howard Sherman.” Thus far, only a pilot has been ordered.
All three networks are expected to announce schedule changes officially later this month.
The fewest changes are expected at NBC, which, as of Friday, expected to win the key November ratings period for the first time since 1974. NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff said that he will most likely replace only two hours of shows in January and plug in a remaining 3 1/2 hours in March, when the network will drop its “Sunday Night at the Movies.”
One player certain to make the early-'86 lineup is “The Last Precinct,” a zany cop-house comedy starring Adam West (“Batman”) and co-created by Stephen J. Cannell (“The A-Team”). Tartikoff confirmed that the show will premiere after the Super Bowl Jan. 26 and “could be deployed right after that.” An obvious spot for it would be Wednesdays at 9 p.m., replacing “Hell Town.”
CBS’ “Mary,” starring Mary Tyler Moore and premiering Dec. 11 at 8 p.m., is indisputably a big gun, but there is speculation that the network’s other replacement shows might fire blanks. Advance word on “Foley Square,” a lawyer comedy produced in-house at CBS and set to follow “Mary” Wednesday nights, is grim. “I think they’re using ‘Sara’s’ scripts,” said one source who has seen the show, referring to the NBC lawyer comedy that bombed last year.
Other shows moving to CBS’ front burner: “The Couch,” a spinoff from the short-lived “George Burns’ Comedy Hour,” starring Harvey Korman and Valerie Perrine; “Tough Cookies,” another cop-house comedy, this one starring Robby Benson; “Melba,” starring Melba Moore; Suzanne Pleshette’s new drama, “Bridges to Cross” and a half-hour series based on the Universal film, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
CBS executives also declined to talk about mid-season changes.
Over at NBC, Tartikoff dispelled speculation that the currently top-rated network would no longer stick with relatively poor performers, as it did in previous seasons when it had nothing to lose. “What I don’t want to be guilty of is canceling shows that could turn out to be the next ‘Knight Rider,’ ‘Cheers’ or ‘Family Ties,’ ” Tartikoff said.
All of those shows started off poorly but became solid ratings-grabbers, and Tartikoff said he believes “Misfits of Science,” on opposite CBS’ “Dallas,” and “Riptide,” suffering a slump opposite ABC’s “Moonlighting,” could both go that same route. Citing “Misfits’ ” high popularity with teen-agers, Tartikoff said he was not as eager as has been rumored to move “Miami Vice” an hour earlier into the “Misfits” slot in an attempt to top “Dallas.”
However, Tartikoff also noted--in regard to “Hell Town"--that announcement of a show’s cancellation typically turns away whatever viewers it might have had. That same philosophy seemingly prevents him from speaking negatively about possible ratings victims much in advance of their replacement.
Too, producers hate to find out the fate of their shows by reading the morning paper.
Tartikoff nonetheless acknowledged that the next few weeks’ ratings will be watched closely to determine “Misfits’ ” fate.
Another likely candidate to disappear in January could be “TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes,” whose absence could pave the way for a comedy block of such shows as “Valerie,” starring Valerie Harper, and the new Jack Klugman series based on the British show, “Home to Roost.”
Tartikoff remarked that in previous years he has felt like the little Dutch boy trying to plug the dike with his finger, but now “I sort of feel like an air-traffic controller. All these pilots are trying to land and I keep telling them to circle one more time.”
Still waiting for a runway on NBC: “Blacke’s Magic,” starring Hal Linden and from the “Murder, She Wrote” creative team of Peter Fischer and Robert O’Neill; “All Is Forgiven,” from Les and Glen Charles and James Burrows, the men behind “Cheers”; “Stingray,” a high-gloss Stephen J. Cannell production, and “Dalton,” an action show from Universal.
Additional backup shows at ABC include the sitcoms “Mr. Sunshine,” written by longtime comedy script-doctor David Lloyd, “He’s the Mayor” and “The Redd Foxx Show”; action shows “Charlie Hannah,” starring Robert Conrad and “Reddwite & Blue,” from Aaron Spelling Productions; and the hourlong “gang comedy,” “Pros and Cons.”