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Mozark fax flurry tries to set sitcom interest ‘Afire’

Trying to punch up viewer interest in the struggling sitcom “Hearts Afire,” Mozark Prods. sent out a cryptic press release saying tonight’s episode would feature “enough fisticuffs to raise the hackles of anti-violence activists and demonstrators everywhere.”

The bizarre, tongue-in-cheek release — faxed around by an independent PR firm and carrying a veiled reference to President Clinton — stems in part from a Senate committee on violence that lashed out against another CBS sitcom, “Love & War,” for airing a barroom brawl whose satiric point about TV causing violence was apparently lost on the legislators.

Mozark’s last-ditch stab at boosting “Hearts” comes after the show has averaged a not-exactly-blazing 7.7 rating/12 share in Nielsen since returning Oct. 27, airing at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Two of those five airings have been “nuked, ” as Thomason put it, by stunt repeats of “Home Improvement.”

The Thomasons used their pull at CBS to lobby for a slot other than their originally scheduled 9 p.m. Friday berth for fall. Despite having the show’s episode order cut from 22 to 13 in the process, Thomason said he doesn’t regret the move. “We’re still on,” he noted. “Those shows that were on Friday are gone.”

Thomason added that the allusion to President Clinton (“the Thomasons’ Best Friend in the Oval Office,” it says) wasn’t supposed to be used, saying the couple didn’t intend to trade on its relationship with the first family in the “Hearts” campaign. Mozark did curry some publicity from the other end of the political spectrum, however, with a set visit by conservative radio & TV commentator Rush Limbaugh.

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