It was a big mistake to cancel 'Working It Out'

Television

December 06, 1990|By Michael Hill

Chalk up the first bone-headed move of the 1990-91 television season to NBC, which has canceled the best of its crop of new shows, "Working It Out."

This gentle, insightful and very funny sitcom, which chronicled the weekly developments of an accidentally-serious relationship between two once-divorced parents, languished in a too-early, wrong-night time period -- Saturdays at 8:30 -- then got one chance last week on Wednesdays at 9:30 before getting the ax.

When NBC was on its way up in the world, this is exactly the type of show it would have stuck by for several seasons while the writing of executive producer Bill Persky and the work of the cast, headed by Jane Curtin and Stephen Collins, found an audience.

Indeed, even with the relatively small numbers the show got, the cancellation still makes little sense. Running on Saturdays, "Working It Out" regularly increased the size of the audience handed it by its lead-in, "Parenthood," proving that there were people seeking it out. It was good enough to be appointment television, a show that people searched for, exactly what the networks need in an era of clutter and competition.

On top of that, put the almost universal good reviews the show received, the fact that it brought the team of Persky and Curtin -- who worked together for years on "Kate & Allie" -- to NBC, and its week-in, week-out quality, and the network decision makes no sense at all.

Apparently the move was made because in its one chance on Wednesday last week, "Working It Out" dropped off significantly from the numbers of its lead-in "Dear John." For the record, "Working It Out" got a 8.0 rating and 13 share compared to a 11.0 rating and 17 share for "Dear John."

Making such a hasty decision based on those numbers is ridiculous. For one thing, the "Dear John" audience didn't know what was going on with these characters. They joined it in mid-story and needed a few weeks to get up to speed.

Plus the time period switch was done so hastily -- first announced as a one-week tryout, then as a permanent change -- that the "Working It Out" fans didn't even get a chance to find it there.

And before they did, NBC pulls the plug. For now, it's pre-empted tonight by a tryout of "Midnight Caller," which will be shown on Dec. 12, pre-empted by a special on Dec. 19, and the network is still deciding whether or not to show the last of the 13 episodes that were produced, on Dec. 26.

More than anything, the death of "Working It Out" proves that it's political might, not quality, that wins the battles in Hollywood, at least at NBC. If "Working It Out" had gotten the time period it deserved -- Saturday at 10:30 following "Carol & Company" -- it would definitely have gotten a pick up for the rest of the year.

But that slot went to "American Dreamer," which, unlike "Working It Out," drops off significantly from its lead-in, even though both other networks are in the middle of hour dramas. Why does "American Dreamer" get this treatment? Because it's from Gary David Goldberg's company and he did "Family Ties."

And why does "Working It Out" die while the anemic "Grand" stays in the most protected slot on the schedule, behind "Cheers?" It's because "Grand" is produced by the Carsey-Werner company that turns out "The Cosby Show."

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