`Home Improvement' to stay if ABC hammers out a deal

Television: Surprisingly strong ratings convince network that sitcom might still have the tools.

January 12, 1999|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

PASADENA -- Remember the ABC network's promotional messages telling us not to miss a single episode of "Home Improvement" because this was the final season of the hit series?

Well, ABC has pulled the plug on the campaign and now says forget about its message.

Why? Because this might not be the end for "Home Improvement" after all, according to Stu Bloomberg, chairman of ABC Entertainment.

Bloomberg and Jamie Tarses, president of ABC Entertainment, said yesterday that talks have started between ABC and "Home Improvement" star Tim Allen about the series returning for another season next fall.

"The show means a lot to us," Bloomberg said, "and right now there are a lot of conversations taking place.

"It's always hard to let something like this go, and, so, we're all sort of looking at the show right now. If the stars are in the right alignment for everybody, sure [ABC wants it back]. But this is a very delicate situation to talk about."

"Home Improvement" surprised even ABC with its continued audience appeal Tuesday nights at 8. The sitcom regularly wins its time period with the key audience of viewers 18- to 49-years-old against some of the toughest competition in television. It beats NBC's "Mad About You," for example, by 46 percent.

And, while Allen pulls down $1 million per episode and will surely demand more to return for another season, it is still less costly than the dead-in-the-water "Mad About You," with Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt each pulling down $1 million per episode from NBC.

Deciding to continue or to end a long-running series is one of the toughest calls for networks to make in today's environment of almost unlimited channel choice.

Clearly, NBC made a big mistake with "Mad About You." But when you balance what you spend on one more year with a known and successful brand identity like "Home Improvement" against the millions of dollars you will be risking on new series likely to be canceled before the sixth episode, the old hits start looking better and better.

Not gonna make it after all

One old favorite that we won't be seeing next year is the highly publicized return of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

Last year at this time, Tarses and Bloomberg announced that ABC was developing a series with Mary Tyler Moore that would bring her Mary Richard character back, along with that of Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper).

After much hoopla and many false starts, the project is now officially dead, Tarses said yesterday.

"In the course of development, we spent a long time developing scripts and having creative meetings with lots of different people, and I guess in this case the stars just didn't line up," Tarses said.

"A lot of different tacks were taken, and it's no one person's fault. But it's hard to get a show like that off the ground, and, for a lot of different reasons, we weren't able to accomplish that," she added.

On a brighter note, Bloomberg announced that Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, the creators and executive producers of "thirtysomething," will be starting production next week on a drama called "Once Again."

The series, which is planned for next fall, is similar to "thirty-something," Bloomberg said.

"It's about two people, both divorced with families, who get a second chance," he said.

Cops and doctors

Also about to go into production for next fall at another network, UPN, is a pilot from Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana, the executive producers of "Homicide: Life on the Street."

The working title for the series, which had originally been announced as debuting this spring, is "The True Story," according to Tom Nunan, entertainment president at UPN.

"Instead of airing six episodes now at midseason, which was our original plan, what we want to do is consider just putting it on in the fall with a full 13-episode order.

The series "is about a gruff, young uniform cop in New York City and his relationship with his sister, a young medical intern," according to Nunan.

"So it will be mixing the doctor and cop franchises in one series," Nunan said.

Sorry, Baltimore, the series will be set and filmed in New York, Nunan said.

And, speaking of Levinson, it was announced yesterday that he will be honored with the Creative Achievement Award at the 13th annual American Comedy Awards Feb. 7 at the Shrine Exposition Center in Los Angeles.

Previous winners include Norman Lear, Carl Reiner and Garry Marshall.

The show will be telecast on Fox in March.

Pub Date: 1/12/99

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