1998-99 Season

I'll confess, this article should have been written in September. But now I've had the chance to see most of the new shows, and there are several decent new shows that premiered in January. As I predicted in September of 1997 and January of 1998, NBC has fallen from its perch, having lost "Seinfeld", football, the source of its high NBA ratings (i.e. Michael Jordan), and 20% of its audience (according to Reuters/Variety). CBS is now number one, with football raising their ratings (due in no small part to the resurgence of the Jets), and a successful cloning of 60 Minutes on Wednesday nights. Besides, who would have thought 5 months ago that CBS's "Everybody Loves Raymond" would beat Fox's hit "Ally McBeal" in the ratings? Fox has lower ratings because "The Simpsons" and "X Files" are down and moving "King of the Hill" to Tuesdays cost that show 60% of its audience. But Fox's Thursday night lineup is threatening NBC's young demo dominance, and the new Eddie Murphy claymation comedy "The PJs" had a good premiere and has higher ratings than "King of the Hill". And ABC? Does anyone still remember their obnoxious "TV is Good" campaign, or their failed attempt at reviving "Fantasy Island"? And ABC's highest rated program (Monday Night Football) is already done for the season. It's tragic to see what Disney has done to a network that was rated #1 four years ago. WB is the fastest growing of the networks, due to its teen dramas. UPN, which shelved most of its minority comedies, is down about 40% from last year. Part of that ratings decline is due to Sinclair Broadcasting switching its UPN affiliates in major markets to WB last year.
For some reason, the hottest trends in network programming are teen dramas and programs featuring the Irish. As someone who was once a teenager and who is part Irish, I'll complain that none of these new shows are realistic. (And the only fall season Irish show that hasn't been cancelled yet is UPN's "Legacy".) My teenage years where NEVER as fun or sex filled as the WB dramas make that time out to be. I would have loved to have spent my high school years in New York City or some livable small town instead of a racist Southern hick town with a major drug problem and one of the highest crime rates in the United States. I would have loved to have had understanding friends, and a loving girlfriend, instead of being socially outcast and harassed because I was Catholic instead of Southern Baptist. I would have loved for aloofness and misunderstanding to have been the extent of my parents' problems- instead of alcoholism, cancer, ALS, depression, and the mental and physical violence that so stereotypically follows those of Irish descent. I'll stop now before I give some TV executive an idea for a new drama. Now on with my TV analysis...


News: CBS's regular programming leads the night. "Ally McBeal" is doing well enough to beat up its NBC so-called comedy competition, although it can't beat CBS's "Everybody Loves Raymond". UPN hopes to resuscitate its ratings with a TV version of the popular comic strip "Dilbert". The WB has its highest rated drama ("7th Heaven") and another young adult drama ("Hyperion Bay"). And outside of some tired TV movies and another edition of "20/20", does anyone know or care what ABC has on this night now that MNF is done for the season?

Recommended: CBS's "Cosby" and "Everybody Loves Raymond", which are funnier than anything NBC comes out with these days. "Ally McBeal" on Fox is recommended if you have a significant amount of estrogen in your bloodstream. There's also the farcial "Dilbert", based on that office cult comic.

Not Recommended: Fox's "Melrose Place", NBC's "Mad About You" (which is in its last season due to big salary increases and big ratings decline), "Caroline in the City", and "Suddenly Susan"; CBS's "LA Doctors".

Unacceptable: NBC's Dateline. This show has earned the unacceptable rating (something not even Fox's reality specials or Jerry Springer have earned) for misleading the public, distorting truths, and attempting all this in the guise of a newsmagazine. As I have trashed this show in previous columns, I don't want to have to repeat this show's overload in the Monica Lewinsky affair or its attempt to smear GM by placing an explosive device on a GM truck and passing that off as an automotive defect or its one month premature announcement of Joe DiMaggio's death.


News: ABC's dominance on Tuesdays is over, due partially to the final season and decline of once-recommended "Home Improvement". NBC's ratings are down, too, thanks to "Frasier's" move to Thursdays. CBS is up, thanks to "JAG", and WB is way up, thanks to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and another young adult drama called "Felicity".

Recommended: Fox's "King of the Hill" and "The PJs"; ABC's "NYPD Blue"; CBS's "JAG" (perhaps the most patriotic show on TV right now).

Not Recommended: Fox's "Guinness World Records" (which is too pointless for me); WB's "Felicity" (too whiny and about as realistic as "Pinky and the Brain"); NBC's "3rd Rock From the Sun" and "Just Shoot Me" (just shoot this show); and ABC's "Spin City", which is even less funny than "Home Improvement" in its last season.

Unacceptable: Dateline NBC, the cancer of telejournalism. If you don't watch it, they won't keep putting this crap on the air.


News: "The Nanny" is in its final season; 60 Minutes has been successfully cloned; WB has more estrogen-tinged young adult dramas; and ABC has found its Wednesday success in two shows featuring an overweight comic from Cleveland. NBC has one halfway decent show ("Law and Order"), one unacceptable show, and two pathetic comedies. And UPN's most successful show (Star Trek: Voyager) is in danger of expiring.

Recommended: CBS's "60 Minutes II" (which is a class act compared to the crap that passes for news on "Dateline") and ABC's "Drew Carey" and "Whose Line is it Anyway?".

Not recommended: Fox's "90210" (shouldn't this show be put to sleep already?); CBS's "Maggie Winters" and "Chicago Hope"; NBC's "Lateline" and "Encore Encore" (which are both being shipped to Hiatusville as this column goes to print). I don't know which is more unbelievable: Nathan Lane as a womanizer or Al Franken as a reputable journalist.

Unacceptable: Dateline NBC. [Insert comment about the decline and fall of the media here.]

News: While I have never considered Thursday nights to be "Must See TV", the folks at NBC have disagreed with me. CBS counters with a shot of geezers ("Diagnosis Murder") and another Irish cop show ("Turks"). ABC has both naughty ("Vengeance Unlimited") and nice ("Cupid"). Fox has news and real cop videos. There are a few decent programs on the night, and none of them are on NBC.

Recommended: Fox's "Police Videos" and "Fox Files" (which is not bad for a network that had no news division 3 years ago); CBS's "48 Hours".

Not recommended: NBC's "Friends" (which made me lose mine), "Frasier", "Jesse" (which is a big decline for Christina Applegate from her days at "Married With Children"), and "Veronica's Closet"; ABC's "Vengeance Unlimited".

Unacceptable: What's unacceptable is that NBC has been leading this night even though they haven't had anything watchable on Thursdays since "Cheers" retired in 1993. But at least NBC hasn't desecrated the night further by sneaking in an installment of "Dateline".


News: A real snoozer of a night. Last season, CBS attempted to counter ABC's asinine TGIF comedies with their own family comedies. That failed miserably, so CBS raised their ratings (out of the gutter) by adding Bill Cosby in "Kids Say the Darndest Things" and another revival of "Candid Camera". For some reason, CBS decided to shelve its neo-retro detective show "Buddy Faro" in favor of a tired Western. ABC's TGIF newbies in the 1997-98 season tanked, but ABC quickly found new tentacles in the TGIF hydra: "Two of a Kind" and "Brother's Keeper". Fox decided to go to Hell (literally) with its new show "Brimstone". And out of NBC Hell came "Providence" (which came out of nowhere last month to become the highest rated show on Fridays) and "Dateline". UPN has the Irish-in-1860s-Kentucky drama "Legacy" and WB turned the night over to its affiliates.

Recommended: ABC's 20/20, or else the Pax TV reruns. At best, Fridays are television's equivalent to Purgatory.

Not Recommended: ABC's TGIF comedies; Fox's "Brimstone" and "Millenium"; NBC's "Providence"; CBS's "Magnificent Seven" (attention: the Period Western has been dead for some time now!).

Unacceptable: Dateline NBC. Did Nielsen install people meters in Hell? Why else is this still on the air?


News: CBS and Fox still dominate this night with shows dedicated to law enforcement. Since "Fantasy Island" tanked, is anyone still watching ABC? NBC still has "The Pretender" and "Profiler", but they can't seem to find a permanent Saturday schedule. And while WB and UPN don't program on Saturdays, Channel 11 is very competitive with "Xena" and "Hercules".

Recommended: Fox's "Cops" and "America's Most Wanted" (which earns the Excelsior Public Service Award); CBS's "Martial Law" and "Walker Texas Ranger"; WB11's "Xena" and "Hercules". (I might add to people who enjoy all six of these shows but have only one VCR that "Hercules" and "Xena" are rerun on Channel 11 between 1PM and 3PM on Sunday afternoons).

Not Recommended: There's nothing as crappy as NBC's comedies or as unacceptable as Dateline, but NBC has been shifting the less than good "Pretender" and "Profiler" around, and ABC can't figure out what to do with itself on Saturdays. Considering ABC's low ratings, I would not be surprised if they handed this night over to their affiliates in the near future.

Saturday Late Night Shows: Fox's "Mad TV" is the funniest of the three. CBS2's "Howard Stern" is pretty much a rehash of the radio show and the E! Show. If it were more like Howard's old Channel 9 show, then I would recommend it. And then there's the dinosaur on NBC called "Saturday Night Live"...


News: Sunday is the most watched night of the week. And part of the reason CBS is number one in total viewers is because of their Sunday lineup and movie. Fox still has "The Simpsons" and "The X-Files"; ABC still has that Disney movie, followed by a new Sunday 20/20 and "The Practice"; and NBC is still in the gutter with low Sunday ratings and a Sunday edition of "Dateline". And WB tampered with its minority comedy block by adding a teen comedy called "Zoe, Duncan, Jack, and Jane" that is quickly becoming WB's first high profile series failure.

Recommended: CBS's "60 Minutes" and "Touched By An Angel"; Fox's "The Simpsons"; ABC's "The Practice".

Not Recommended: Fox's "That 70's Show" (which will be laid off in favor of the animated series "The Family Guy" in March); WB's "Zoe, Duncan, Jack, and Jane" (these kids never grew up in Brooklyn).

Unacceptable: Dateline NBC. Fortunately this edition of sleaze comes in 4th in its timeslot on Sundays. Attention Dateline NBC: You should have died 6 years ago.

Syndicated and Non-Prime Time Shows

News: CBS\King World has a hit with a revival of "Hollywood Squares". "Roseanne" and "Howie Mandel" are flops. "Rosie O'Donnell" returned to a live broadcast after spending the first three months of the season pre-taped. "Oprah" now authorizes her affiliates to run her show twice a day (4PM and 12:35AM here in NYC). "Jerry Springer" is giving WB11 record daytime ratings. "Judge Judy" is beating "Oprah" in the 4PM time slot here in NYC, but CBS2 has to find a replacement since "Judge Judy" is moving to NBC4 this fall. And perhaps the season's biggest surprise hit is UPN9's "Forgive or Forget", which comes in a very competitive 4th at 4PM (versus Oprah, Judge Judy, and Judge Koch) and has already been renewed for next season. In network off-prime news, NBC still leads mornings with "Today" and at press time, CBS's "This Morning" had just beaten ABC's "Good Morning America". ABC is hoping interim hosts Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson can salvage the Titanic of morning shows. My only recommended morning news shows are on CBS2 and Fox 5. CBS still leads in Daytime with "The Price Is Right" and its soap operas, followed by the ABC soaps and the NBC soaps.

Note: no soap operas are recommended! I wouldn't give them an unaccepatable rating like I would for that incubus of telejournalism "Dateline NBC", but I cannot recommend shows with moronic story lines and stupid acting that can turn any female who watches them into a soap opera junkie.

Recommended Syndicated & Non Prime Shows: CBS2's "Hollywood Squares"; CBS's "This Morning", "The Price is Right", and "Late Show with David Letterman"; ABC7's "Rosie O'Donnell"; ABC's "Nightline" and "Politically Incorrect"; Fox 5's "Good Day New York" and "The Simpsons"; UPN9's "Forgive or Forget"; WB11's cartoon lineup.

Syndicated & Non Prime Shows that should be cancelled: ABC's "The View" and "Good Morning America"; WB11's "Judge Mills Lane", "Boy Meets World", "Friends", "Frasier", and "Seinfeld"; CBS2's "Howie Mandel Show" and "Martha Stewart"; NBC4's "Roseanne Show", "Extra", "Access Hollywood", and "Maury Povich"; UPN9's "Jenny Jones"; NBC's "Today Show", "Late Night with Conan O'Brien", and "The Tonight Show"
Other TV Sites and Opinions

NYC TV Station Guide

NBC Seins Off (January 26, 1998)

TV Guide Online

Entertainment Weekly

Shoptalk Media Newsletter

March 9, 1999/BC Excelsior