PASADENA, Calif. -- "Homicide: Life On the Street" earned more critical acclaim last night, when it was picked for its Outstanding Achievement in Drama by the Television Critics Association at the group's 13th annual awards ceremony here.
Andre Braugher, who plays Detective Frank Pembleton on the NBC show, was also honored by the 175-member critics' group with its award for Individual Achievement in Drama.
But the celebrated cop drama returns to production today in Baltimore for its fifth season with a sword hanging over its head.
Earlier this month, executive producer Tom Fontana told The Sun that he feared NBC might cancel "Homicide" at the end of this season if the series' ratings did not improve.
Warren Littlefield, president of NBC Entertainment, confirmed those fears in an interview here over the weekend, saying "Homicide" has to beat CBS' "Nash Bridges," a cop show starring Don Johnson, if it wants to stay on the air.
Last year, "Homicide" finished third in its time period behind ABC's "20/20," which overwhelms all competition from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays, and "Nash Bridges."
"We love the show and we want it to continue. But we have to be competitive," Littlefield said.
"We're comfortable that we can't beat '20/20' in the time period, but we want to be the highest-rated drama, and that's achievable," he added.
"We're doing everything we can, and Tom Fontana is doing everything he can to make that happen. It's a personal favorite of mine, and I'd hate to see it go. But it has got to be the highest-rated drama at 10 on Friday night if it's going to continue," Littlefield concluded.
As part of that improvement effort, Littlefield said "Homicide" added a new actress to the cast last week, Callie Thorne. The only information Littlefield and NBC publicists had on her is that she had been in an NBC pilot this spring that did not make the fall schedule. They said they did not know what her role on the series would be.
NBC said Fontana had more information on Thorne. But Fontana was in New York and unavailable over the weekend.
When asked about the dismissals of Melissa Leo (Sgt. Kay Howard) and Max Perlich (videographer J.H. Brodie) at the end of last season, Littlefield said, "I think one of the things we've learned -- and no one has taught us better than Dick Wolf (executive producer of "Law & Order") -- is that change in a show is good. So, Tom felt we could make some changes and improve the show."
Both Leo and Perlich were involved in widely publicized police stories off-camera. Perlich's problems involved a dispute with neighbors and possession of a gun, while Leo made headlines after filing charges against ex-husband John Heard for stalking her and their child.
The new season of "Homicide" episodes will air starting Oct. 17, NBC announced.
Pub Date: 7/21/97