‘Critic’ gets re-animated

Fox Broadcasting Co. is expected to announce a deal this week to pick up “The Critic,” the animated series from James L. Brooks’ Gracie Films that premiered in January on ABC.

The parties have been negotiating the complicated deal for weeks, with word first surfacing of the discussions shortly after ABC shelved the series (Daily Variety, March 16). The Alphabet network aired six of the show’s 13 episodes, which is produced by Gracie (and animation house Film Roman) in association with Columbia TriStar TV.

At one point the deal called for Fox to acquire the seven remaining episodes from ABC, but thataspect of the deal has apparently fallen through, meaning the weblet will have to start from scratch. Because of the long lead time in producing animation, that means a new version of the series probably couldn’t be available earlier than next spring.

An ABC spokesman confirmed that the network discussed parting with the episodes but that nothing came of those talks.

“The Critic,” created by Al Jean and Mike Reiss, former producers of “The Simpsons,” would seem a logical companion for the long-running Fox hit, which has been renewed for three more seasons. Both ABC and CBS have struck out with animated shows (casualties include “Capitol Critters” and “Fish Police”) since Bart, Homer & company became an instant phenomenon and the only primetime hit of that variety since “The Flintstones.”

One sticking point in the negotiations was said to be production costs, though sources say Columbia TriStar is seeking ways to alleviate that problem. None of the parties would comment.

Assuming the deal is consummated, “The Critic” would join such recent shows as “In the Heat of the Night,””Matlock” and “Getting By” in making the leap from one network to another. The show, which features Jon Lovitz voicing the title character, averaged a 10.5 rating/15 share for its six ABC airings, though later episodes trended downward after initial sampling.

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