TV doesn't give viewers good reason to stay tuned

October 10, 1992|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

So, how do you like the TV season so far? New television series are not exactly gluing viewers to their armchairs, judging from the first fall survey of the Viewers for Quality Television organization.

A whole lot of sampling has been going on, with eight new programs ranking in the "Most Watched" category's top 20.

But respondents to the September survey of the 2,000-member national organization ranked only two premiere series in the "Highest Quality" top 20.

"The new shows have basically been rejected on their quality content. People just aren't connecting with these new shows or the characters in them," said Dorothy Swanson, VQT founder and president.

By contrast, a number of returning shows scored well, including CBS' "Murphy Brown," which ranked as the most-watched program with its first-episode retort to Vice President Dan Quayle's criticism of character Murphy's single motherhood.

"The returning shows are the interesting ones among our members," said Ms. Swanson.

About 800 VQT members in the United States and Canada responded to the fall survey, which asked for first impressions of the fall fare. Respondents ranked shows as excellent, very good, good, average or poor, and the survey methodology assigned a "qualitative rating" on a scale of 1 to 10.

"There were very few excellents" recorded for new series, said Ms. Swanson. "It will be interesting to see what they [members] say in October," with the next monthly survey questionnaires due late in the month.

Highest ranking for a new show in September went to "Middle Ages" on CBS (actually a limited-run late-summer starter), with a 15th place/7.7 quality rating.

Ranking ahead of that show were 14 returning series, in the following order: "I'll Fly Away," "Brooklyn Bridge," "Northern Exposure," "Law & Order," "Homefront," "Murphy Brown," "Quantum Leap," "Reasonable Doubts," "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "Roseanne," "Life Goes On," "The Wonder Years," "Doogie Howser, M.D." and "Seinfeld."

The only other new series in the top 20 was "Picket Fences," on CBS, with a 17th place/7.5 rating.

New shows which made the VQT "Most Watched" top 20, however, included: "Love and War" (CBS, second place); "Hearts Afire" (CBS, third), "Delta" (ABC, fifth), "Mad About You" (NBC, ninth), "Bob" (CBS, 12th), "Picket Fences" (CBS, 13th), "The Golden Palace" (CBS, 18th) and "Going to Extremes" (ABC, 20th).

While the national Nielsen ratings do not ask viewers for a quality rating, Ms. Swanson suggested that those ratings likely will begin to reflect the VQT disenchantment with the new fare.

Already it seems clear that no new series have become instant hits,according to the most recent Nielsens. In the week beginning Sept. 27, for example, only three new programs were in the top 20: "Love and War," "Hearts Afire" and "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper" (ABC).

* Monday marks the observance of Columbus Day, and for a change television is paying some attention in this 500th anniversary year of Christopher Columbus' sailing.

For example, PBS stations tomorrow night (at 8, Maryland Public Television) are screening "Columbus' Magnificent Voyage." The three-hour documentary chronicles the remarkable voyage this year of reproductions of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria across the Atlantic.

Viewers may recall the astonishingly tiny ships paid a visit in Baltimore before participating on July 4 in the parade of sail celebration in New York City.

Also tomorrow, cable's Discovery Network examines the mystery what happened to the legendary mariner's bodily remains in "The Feuding Toms of Christopher Columbus," at 10 p.m. Following comes "Hello Columbus," a feature on a San Francisco actor who has portrayed the voyager for more than 27 years.

And the cable service will devote Monday's prime-time lineup to four exploration shows, beginning at 8 p.m. and including: "Myth America!," "Archaeology: The Voyages of the Vikings," "The World: A Television History" and "Explorers: Christopher Columbus."

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