New series get thumbs up riding coattails of hits

THE FALL TELEVISION SEASON is heading into the thick of things, with 14 new series to premiere between tonight and the official Sept. 20 start of the ’93-94 season.

Small wonder that pundits analyzing the season have given thumbs up almost exclusively to shows that air in time periods with strong lead-ins: “Dave’s World” (between “Evening Shade” and “Murphy Brown”), “Grace Under Fire” (post-“Home Improvement”), “Frasier” (after “Seinfeld”) and “The Sinbad Show” (following “The Simpsons”).

Indeed, even “Sinbad,” which has undergone early production problems, still turns up on advertiser lists as a likely “hit,” and “Phenom”– the recipient of at-best mediocre pre-season buzz — has a chance of surviving the year largely due to its slot between “Full House” and “Roseanne.”

Thus far, several new shows have done reasonably well getting sampled outside such protected time periods, but the early-premiere strategy demonstrates how the networks wind up yanking their own chains by getting overly excited about premiere ratings.

“The John Larroquette Show,” for example, did just fine in a post-“Seinfeld” preview but should find the sledding much more difficult against “Roseanne”– particularly once ABC begins airing original episodes next week.

The same goes for ABC’s “Missing Persons,” whose two-hour pilot performed reasonably well in the web’s Monday movie slot but which will have a tougher time finding an audience in its regular Thursday slot.

Among other new shows, “Angel Falls” got off to an OK start but fell 19% in week two, despite an extra-marital sexual encounter against a urinal in a honky-tonk bar. When you’ve exhausted a scene like that two weeks into the series, it begs the question of what you do for an encore.

The bottom line is that there seems to be no substitute for being put behind a strong, established series and being left there. Many observers forget that

“Home Improvement” had an entire year behind “Full House” before being asked to stand on its own on Wednesdays.

Already, Fox Broadcasting Co.’s “Living Single” looks like a winner, having established a viewer profile in its post-“Martin” slot before ABC’s “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” and NBC’s “seaQuest DSV” seek to lay claim to the hour. On the flip side, “The Trouble With Larry,” asked to open Wednesdays for CBS, appeared to arrive DOA.

CBS likes to point to the out-of-the-barrel success of “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” but it’s easy to forget that the show premiered on New Year’s Night, when a huge female audience is traditionally available because of college football bowl games.

By contrast, a show like “Larry” or “The Second Half” or “Joe’s Life” is being asked to occupy a time period where its network enjoyed at best moderate success last season without the benefit of such an intro. As evidenced by the pre-season period, these shows may “open,” but such a timeslot makes it difficult to lure viewers back on a regular basis.

The answer seems to be clear: fewer new series, more carefully nurtured, platformed and previewed. Until then — or the day that each network has four or five “Home Improvements” or “Seinfelds” to use as a launch pad — the fall will continue to offer the webs and particularly their suppliers very little thrill of victory and a whole lot more of the agony of defeat.

MOURNING NEWS: If you ever think to yourself that there aren’t enough hours in a day, you obviously haven’t been watching morning television lately.

KTLA weighed in Tuesday with its local “The Morning Show” at 9 a.m., followed on KCAL-TV by “Live in L.A.”– a show so derivative of a nationally syndicated morning show (and, of course, the old “A.M. Los Angeles”) that one half expects Steve Edwards to introduce himself as “Regis.”

“Live” has the distinction of being listless to the point where one wonders what the studio audience is doing off-camera to keep themselves entertained.

By contrast, the first edition of KTLA’s “Morning Show” seemed reminiscent of a radio station “morning zoo,” with four people bumping into each other and talking over each other having a grand old time. The effect recalls the recent Saturday morning series “The Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys” or a short by “Three Stooges,” plus one, dragged out to an hour.

The nadir of Tuesday’s inaugural broadcast had a reporter doing what looked like an infomercial for the Universal CityWalk, wolfing down a thick sausage submarine live on camera. The only suspense in the segment was whether someone would be needed to perform the Heimlich maneuver.

While the push toward localism is understandable with all the repeats supplied by cable, few things feel more uncomfortable than forced localism, particularly with the glut of news programming available.

For station executives, the Catch 22 is either to offer more of the same, which provides no compelling reason to tune in, or try to break the mold a bit with an experiment like “The Morning Show” or KCOP’s “Real News” and risk looking silly — like an oompah band playing a Rolling Stones medley.

And the band plays on …

OPEN SEASON: In the truth is stranger than fiction department, CBS Radio’s Sunday NFL broadcast featured the “National Rifle Assn. starting lineups.” And we thought sponsorism had gotten out of hand when Die Hard batteries began introducing the starting lineups.

Still, the new arrangement should at least bring suspense to what’s usually a boring part of the game: “At quarterback, No. 16, Jim — Omigod, look out, he’s got a gun!”

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