NBC prayers answered? No comment from God

SPANNING THE DIAL, in the spirit of the Winter Olympics, to bring you the best in typewriter-delayed coverage of what’s going on in the world of television:

“MAD” WITH A BULLET: The biggest surprise of the TV season isn’t the success of “NYPD Blue,””Frasier,””Grace Under Fire” or for that matter the failure of “It Had to Be You” or “Against the Grain.”

Nope, the hands-down, absolute stunner of the current season has to be the performance of NBC’s 8-9 p.m. hour Thursday, “Mad About You” and “Wings,” which are consistently pummeling all competition.

“Mad About You” is now regularly and convincingly trouncing “The Simpsons,” scoring far higher numbers than anything the show mustered last year on either Wednesday or Saturday night, with all the makings of a sure-fire, long-term hit.

Meanwhile, “Wings”– a show that’s always been written off as the lucky recipient of a post-“Cheers” slot by virtue of its creative auspices, perceived as having little strength of its own — is building on those figures, capitalizing on the vulnerability of Fox Broadcasting at 8:30 to help turn Thursday into a huge night for NBC.

That may not sound like such an accomplishment, but hammocked time periods aren’t quite what they used to be. Doubters can look at ABC, which has seen “Phenom” regularly dip between “Full House” and “Roseanne,” while the Alphabet web has been unable to get anything started from 8-9 p.m. or 10-11 p.m. Wednesday despite the huge numbers erected by “Home Improvement” and “Grace” in the middle of the evening.

After a disastrous performance from 8-9 p.m. last season, when NBC started with “A Different World” and a short-lived sitcom, “Rhythm and Blues,” NBC now has the makings of long-term Thursday strength, creating a centerpiece that allows the web to focus on building other nights. That’s actually a remarkable accomplishment when one considers the night was seen as in real jeopardy once Paramount said “Cheers” wouldn’t return.

Such are the vagaries of television, where once in awhile you can get “Mad,” and get even.

PAIRING UP PARAMOUNT: Now that Viacom has won the bidding for Paramount, it’s time to start tossing around the best three-syllable word in television: synergy.

Since Viacom’s network TV operation is relatively small compared with the Paramount machine, here are some creative ways to immediately bolster their respective product through series combinations and crossovers:

“The Matlock-MacGyver Hour”– Country lawyer Ben Matlock keeps getting himself into jams that only the creative wizardry of MacGyver can handle.

“Frasier & Butt-Head”– The sitcom about a persnickety radio psychologist who tries to corral a younger demographic when the title character’s addled, heavy-metal-loving nephew (Pauly Shore) also moves in with him.

“Hard Copy Kids”– Half-hour strip for Nickelodeon exploring past and present scandals involving child stars.

“The Mommies Mysteries”– Producers Fred Silverman and Dean Hargrove turn a struggling sitcom into a light mystery format about two wives and mothers who moonlight solving crimes. Sample dialogue:

“Boy, if I never see another dirty diaper, it’ll be too soon.”

“Look out, the nanny’s got a gun in the clothes hamper!”

TORCHED: Early CBS numbers for the Winter Olympics suggest this is going to be a long, long couple of weeks for the folks at the other networks.

Even considering that the Olympics attract viewers who aren’t normally there, the heightened interest in these Games invariably promises to siphon a significant portion of the available audience away from the other webs, as well as from cable, homevideo, etc.

Indeed, CBS may be able to attribute its final margin of victory for the current season to Jeff Gillooly and the other dim bulbs who’ve been implicated in the Nancy Kerrigan attack. As a result, when CBS Entertainment chief Jeff Sagansky collects his bonus for being No. 1 in primetime this year, a bouquet of flowers to a Portland correctional facility might be in order.

LIGHTNING STRIKING AGAIN: KNBC-TV reached down into the new-low realm — again — with a sweeps-timed 11 p.m. news feature entitled “Is God Punishing Us?”

The premise is that after earthquake, fire, flood and riots, a Higher Power may be at work in “punishing” the Southland. “Jess has the answer,” said an earnest anchor Paul Moyer in kicking off the multipart series.

Oh really?

Actually, reporter Jess Marlow looked understandably embarrassed about the assignment. After all, while the discussion may make for a fascinating debate among theologians, barring an interview with the Almighty (“And now, Jess will start off our team coverage from Heaven”), just what exactly qualifies this hokum as news, and where on Earth (literally) is poor Jess supposed to get his “answer”?

KNBC should stick to topics its personnel can handle, like goofy sports outtakes or Michael Jackson. Of course, no one knows if God will punish the station for its lack of judgment … but viewers should.

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