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Most web rookies prove light hitters

Even with four weeks left in the regular season plus the May sweeps, naming “ER” Rookie-of-the-Year – and even Most Valuable Program – is an easy call. The more challenging task is finding out what else the programming execs did right in last year’s pilot season.

With all the networks rushing on replacement shows to fill gaps and test product for next season, it pays to remember what they are replacing: Of the 27 rookies to start the season, only two are unqualified hits – “ER” and another NBC Thursday smash, “Friends.” After that, there are only a handful of shows that generated even modest ratings success.

CBS

CBS’ ratings woes this season were mostly blamed on the decline of aging shows from its four strongest nights: Monday, Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday. But another clue to the Eye web’s problems was the poor freshman crop it plugged into troubled slots last fall.

To find “The Boys Are Back,” “Daddy’s Girls,” “Touched by an Angel,” “Five Mrs. Buchanans” and “Under Suspicion” in the ratings rankings, just skim right on down to the 70s and 80s. These shows are all clustered together in this graveyard for the thoroughly mediocre – they weren’t an embarrassment, but with ratings ranging from an 8.6 and 14 share to an 8.9/16, they failed to solve any problems in what are some of CBS’ weakest periods. Replacement shows like “George Wendt” and “Double Rush” are not faring much better.

The web did nail down two hours with “Due South,” a pleasant surprise that carved out a niche at 10.5/17 in the highly competitive Thursday 8 p.m. slot, and “Chicago Hope,” 11.9/19, which established a respectable following on Mondays at 10 p.m. after “ER” bloodied it on Thursday. Unfortunately for CBS, the “Hope” move just stepped it into what had been a strong time period – occupied by “Northern Exposure” – rather than infusing life into a problem night.

ABC

ABC is going to win the season, with five programs in the top 10 for the year. What ABC does not have is a rookie hit that it can count on for next year. The network’s success this season is largely attributable to its strong freshman batches of recent years – “NYPD Blue,” “Grace Under Fire” and “Ellen” all debuted last season.

While CBS’ newcomers failed to stand out, they did better than ABC’s, three of which went down in flames. “Blue Skies,” 7.3/12, “McKenna,” 7.5/11 and the poorly placed “My So-Called Life,” 7.0/11 all struck out. Additionally, “On Our Own,” 8.2/13, failed miserably in the Sunday 7:30 block, although it has made a decent showing the past two weeks, filling in Fridays at 9:30. Only two sitcoms from the original crew, the moderately successful survivors “Me and the Boys,” 13.1/20 and “All-American Girl,” 10.4/16 even broke double digits.

Fox

Although Fox had three shows perform moderately well – “Party of Five,” “Models Inc.” and “New York Undercover” – none caught on the way “X-Files” or “Melrose Place” did, leaving Fox in a position similar to ABC. Meanwhile “Mantis” bombed as the “X-Files” lead-in, although execs may have redeemed themselves now with “VR. 5.” There will be no redemption for the disastrous lineup scheduled on Sundays: “Fortune Hunter,” 5.0/8, “Wild Oats, 6.0/9 and “Hardball,” 7.2/11 dug a hole out of which Fox has been unable to climb (and in fact, the lineup has sunk even deeper, with a poor selection of substitutes “Get Smart, ” 5.0/8 and “Dream On, ” 6.4/10).

NBC

“ER,” 19.9/33, is the third most popular show in primetime and the most popular drama – and its ratings have shown signs of growth in the last six weeks. In addition to this mega-hit and the extremely successful “Friends,” 15.5/24, the network has managed some more modest successes: “Cosby Mysteries,” 10.1/16 and “Earth 2,” 9.2/14, which shored up the web’s perennially poor Sunday 7 p.m. period.

Even the shows NBC canned posted somewhat respectable figures: “Martin Short,” 11.7/18, and “Madman of the People,” 14.9/23 – although in their high-profile timeslots, the replacement shows “NewsRadio” and “Hope & Gloria” have performed much better so far. Only “Sweet Justice,” 7.7/14, which has hung around despite lackluster figures, has been a stain on the network’s rookie ratings.

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