Time Is Now for NBC's Ratings Move

TV or not TV. . . .

LEAP OF FAITH: Those five straight nights of "Quantum Leap"--a success in last week's ratings--weren't just an NBC publicity stunt.

The time-travel series with Scott Bakula may be critical to keeping NBC No. 1, so getting 60 million viewers to sample the show during the weeklong exposure was shrewd.

Here's why:

With NBC's backbone series--"The Cosby Show," "Cheers" and "The Golden Girls"--all aging, the network is putting on a full-court press every night in the new fall season to shore itself up for the future.

"Quantum Leap" is being switched from Wednesdays to lead off Fridays, where NBC has been weak since the heyday of "Miami Vice."

Last season's Friday NBC schedule was another ratings flop with "Baywatch," "Hardball" and "Mancuso, F.B.I."

But even competitors are praising NBC's lineup to win back Fridays this fall: "Quantum Leap," "Night Court," "Wings" and "Midnight Caller."

The idea is to knock off ABC's winning Friday lineup that includes "Full House," "Family Matters," "Perfect Strangers" and "20/20."

NBC entertainment boss Brandon Tartikoff is indicating the new season is crucial to his network, and he's not kidding.

It could set NBC up in business for the '90s, or hasten the end of its leadership.

STAYING POWER: Carol Burnett's been around a long time, but her "Carol & Company" series beat everyone with the young 18-to-49 audience--including her strong lead-in tandem on NBC, "The Golden Girls" and "Empty Nest."

EYE FOR TALENT: "60 Minutes" producer Don Hewitt says that when Barbara Walters worked behind the scenes with NBC's "Today," she visited him at CBS: "She said, 'I want to be a broadcaster.' I said, 'Barbara, dear, ain't nobody ever gonna hire you to broadcast . . . not with your voice.' " Hewitt's two-part interview on NBC's "Later with Bob Costas," which began Monday night, resumes tonight.

TROUBLE: "NBC Nightly News" got hammered by "ABC's World News Tonight" by a huge margin--2.4 rating points--the week of June 25-29. That's a gap of more than 2 million TV homes. Peter Jennings' ABC newscast now has won 25 consecutive weeks and 38 of the last 39 in the competition with the nightly roundups of CBS' Dan Rather and NBC's Tom Brokaw.

INSIDE MOVES: Brokaw & Co. are taking steps to halt his program's ratings slump. This week, "NBC Nightly News" has a series called "America: Are We Still Number One?" And July 19, Brokaw anchors the program from the Richard Nixon presidential library in Yorba Linda on the day it's dedicated. Meaty possibilities now that it's been disclosed that there is a controversy among scholars because the library will screen papers to be stored there and may also screen researchers.

STILL PITCHING: Never saw a better sports interview on TV than Roy Firestone's talk with long-ago Dodger hurler Carl Erskine on ESPN. Now the president of a bank in Indiana, the 64-year-old Erskine, trim, white-haired and leading-man handsome, was wonderfully human and intelligent. As for the point that he was the guy you looked to in a high-stakes game--fair enough. But let's not forget Johnny Podres.

LATE-WATCH: Among the guest hosts on CBS' "Nightwatch" as it seeks a replacement for Charlie Rose: Elvis Mitchell, film critic for California magazine, former film critic for the L.A. Weekly and, before that, TV critic of the Herald Examiner. Caught him last week exchanging zingers with one of his interview subjects, Bill Murray.

FAST COPY: Strong casting in CBS' new fall drama series "WIOU," about a failing local TV news operation--John Shea, Helen Shaver, Mariette Hartley, Harris Yulin and Dick Van Patten. And this exchange, too, between an aspiring young woman anchor and a producer: Anchor: "I just want to be good." Producer: "And they (management) just want you to be good-looking."

DATE BOOK: Jane Pauley visits Dave Letterman's show Friday night. Enough said.

ROOTS: We have in hand an article from Motion Picture magazine of October, 1931. There is a terrifying headline: "Will Television Mean the End of Garbo?" TV, you see, "will be bad news for blondes" because they "do not 'screen' well." And "redheads are colorless in television broadcasts," so Clara Bow and Mary Astor "will have to become brunettes." Panic, Hollywood-style (pre-Lucy).

BATTLE STATIONS: It won't be tea and crumpets for PBS this fall. Faced with cable competition, PBS is getting in there and fighting for its audience with "Showcase Week" Sept. 30-Oct. 5, previewing public TV's new season. What's more, PBS will step up its "stripping" of series--that is, show them on consecutive nights--starting with "The Civil War," an 11-hour documentary that runs from Sept. 23-27. Voices for "The Civil War" include Julie Harris, Kurt Vonnegut, Arthur Miller, Studs Terkel and Garrison Keillor.

COMEBACK TRAIL: CBS has made it official--the Western series "Paradise," bumped from this fall's schedule, has won renewal nonetheless as a midseason replacement. Eight-episode commitment with Lee Horsley back as the gunman-turned-father, says the network.

FASHION NOTE: What wonderful overcoats Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce wore in those "Sherlock Holmes" films that pop up on TV. You can almost feel the fog as they walk into a room.

BEING THERE: "You're never too old to do goofy stuff," observed good old dad Ward Cleaver (Hugh Beaumont) on "Leave It to Beaver."

Say good night, Gracie. . . .

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