Levinson thinks momentum for 'Homicide' is finally building

TURNED ON IN L.A. -- Spring Preview

January 10, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Los Angeles -- The fate of the NBC show "Homicide" lies with the numbers.

"We're going to air these last three p9,11l [episodes]," said the cop show's Executive Producer Tom Fontana. "Then, whatever the numbers [ratings] are, NBC will make up their minds. And we'll either be back on for the 1994-'95 season, or we'll be a fond memory."

That might be an uncertain future for a show that won critical raves and big ratings for last week's episode, which featured Robin Williams (an 18 rating, or about 17 million TV homes). But Fontana and his partner, Barry Levinson, aren't complaining.

There were times last year when they thought "Homicide" was DOA, they say, adding that they are happy there's at least some hope for renewal now, and that momentum seems to be building.

Levinson, Fontana and cast members Daniel Baldwin and Richard Belzer met with TV critics during the weekend to further prime the momentum pump.

There were lots of questions about NBC's treatment of "Homicide" last spring.

In May, the network announced its fall schedule; "Homicide" wasn't on it. Worse, it let the producers twist in the wind without any word for several weeks. Finally, the network gave Levinson the small order of four shows -- the four that air Thursday nights this month in the "L.A. Law" time slot.

Levinson mainly made nice-nice with NBC. He said he understands why the network acted the way it did.

Part of it was due to the fact Don Ohlmeyer had just joined NBC as West Coast president, he said, and what Ohlmeyer mainly knew about the show was that it had lousy ratings last year in its nine-episode run.

"Our ratings were extremely poor, 99th or whatever," Levinson said. "So, I think they wanted to find a situation where they could bring it back, but which also dealt with economic climate the networks find themselves in."

The solution was that the network would place only a small order, but would let "the show air in a protected time slot for a month and see how it does," according to Levinson.

Levinson says the key for him was that the network agreed to put the show on at 10 p.m. this year instead of 9 p.m., as it had last year. He believes it's an adult show and "that time period is extremely important."

The two producers were also asked to compare "Homicide" to "NYPD Blue."

Fontana had the best answer: "A friend of mine said 'NYPD Blue' is the TV version of 'Homicide.' "

On the topic of momentum, the best indication of how the show is now being perceived came from Baldwin.

"It's funny, my brother, Alec, said he heard I was in a really great show, but even after nine episodes aired last year, he had never seen one," Baldwin said.

"So, now, I get a phone call from him going, 'Wow, man, I saw the show, and Robin Williams is in the show, and I gotta do your show, man. I want to be on your show."

"And, so, now I'm acting real nonchalant and I'm saying, 'Well, I'll see what I can do for ya, babe.' "

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