'Homicide' series kicks off following the Super Bowl

December 17, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Director Barry Levinson's "Homicide" is going to get a super launch next month.

The new NBC series about homicide detectives in Baltimore is going to premiere Jan. 31 after the Super Bowl, a network executive said yesterday.

Super Bowl games usually draw the largest audiences of the TV year, so the time slot following it is one of the most coveted by producers of new series. Last year's game was seen in 40 million homes, with two of every three TV sets in use tuned to it.

" 'Homicide' is one of the very best midseason programs, and we're delighted with what we've seen so far," Curt Block, an NBC vice president, said yesterday. "The programming department is very high on the series. . . . We think it's 'Hill Street Blues' for the '90s."

Such network superlatives have come to be synonymous with Super Bowl Sunday packages. And scheduling alone does not a hit make. Take the case of "Tequila and Bonetti" or "Tenspeed and Brownshoe," two series that CBS chose to launch following its broadcast of the Super Bowl -- only to cancel the shows a few weeks later.

But word-of-mouth on "Homicide" continues to build. The network recently screened portions of the first episode for executives of its affiliate stations around the country. Arnold J. Kleiner, president and general manager at WMAR (Channel 2), was in that audience.

"I think it's going to be great. It looks like it's going to be exciting TV, and I think viewers around the country are going to like it," Kleiner said yesterday, comparing what he saw to "Law and Order," a successful drama series now running on NBC.

A network spokeswoman yesterday said the preview tape shown to affiliates was not being made available to critics, because Levinson had not approved it for screening.

"Homicide" will take up a regular, weekly time slot on NBC's schedule, probably starting the first week of February, Block said. The night has not yet been determined, but it is expected that the show will air at 10 p.m. because of its adult themes and expected appeal.

The series, based on a book by Sun reporter David Simon, is being filmed in Baltimore. Production will be shut down Dec. 23, Rosemary O'Brien, a spokeswoman for NBC, said yesterday. The cast and crew will return to Baltimore in February if NBC decides it wants more than the 13 episodes it has ordered.

The midseason shows have become especially important to NBC this year, because the network has gotten off to such a rocky start in the ratings war. NBC dumped "Matlock," "In the Heat of the Night" and "Golden Girls" -- all shows with older audiences -- and launched an all-out attack on the 18- to 34-year-old viewers who have spent most of their TV time in recent years with Fox, MTV and ABC.

To date, the youth strategy has not been a success. NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield now needs some quality shows, which will attract large household ratings -- both young and old viewers -- if he is to keep his job. The network believes "Homicide" is such a series, which is one reason it is getting the Super Bowl showcase treatment.

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