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He Picks The Winners & Losers On Tv

September 10, 1986|MORGAN GENDEL | Times Staff Writer

You've read about them, you've heard some word of mouth, you've seen the promotional spots.

Now, find out about the new network prime-time TV series from a guy who makes his living predicting their success or failure.

Paul Schulman is his name, and advertising's his game. This year his Paul Schulman Co., a division of a division of Gardner Advertising, will buy about $165 million in network commercial time on behalf of such clients as MGM/UA Films, Ralston-Purina, R. T. French/Airwick and the National Enquirer.

Schulman, whose success rate in picking hits is 79%, is consulted so regularly by the press, he has learned to speak in quotes. The biggest new hit this season, he says, will be NBC's "Amen," whose competitors, "The New Mike Hammer" (CBS) and "Heart of the City" (ABC) "don't have a prayer. "

Toward the opposite end of the new-season spectrum, " 'Together We Stand' will not stand very long," he says of CBS' new Wednesday-night family show starring Elliott Gould and Dee Wallace Stone. Of the show following it, "Better Days," he says pointedly that "there will be none."

Schulman puts a positive face on ABC's "Our World," the historical news show that's an acknowledged loser-to-be Thursday night opposite NBC's "The Cosby Show" and "Family Ties": " 'Our World,' I think, is an opportunity for a network with a new-season show to get a nine share, and we haven't seen one of those before." (A nine share means a measly 9% of the total audience viewing TV at that time.)

Perhaps his choicest critique is reserved for "The Wizard," starring David Rappaport, a dwarf, as a weapons inventor-turned-toymaker. " 'The Wizard' will have a very short run. I recommend that CBS combine two titles and call it 'The Wizardry of Kay O'Brien, Tiny Surgeon.' " That's a double-dig on CBS, both for its troubles renaming "The Wizard of Elm Street," as it once was called, and for placing the new "Kay O'Brien, Surgeon" Thursdays at 10 in place of the successful "Knot's Landing," which is moving to 9 p.m.

(In fairness to 20th Century Fox Television, producer of "The Wizard," its executives have been asking for the last few weeks that the show not be judged by the pilot episode Schulman and TV critics saw.)

Schulman does not necessarily run with the crowd. Much of his livelihood comes from his reputation at being a better prognosticator than his competitors on Madison Avenue. That's how you get bargains in the ad biz.

Two seasons ago, for example, he put a lock on "Miami Vice" commercial time at about $40,000 per 30-second spot. Less than a year later, Sonny-come-latelys were paying four times that amount.

Last year at this time he touted "The Golden Girls" as the only sure-fire new hit of the season and was alone among his peers in predicting that "Vice" would outdraw "Falcon Crest." He was right both times. He also presaged the early demise of "Hollywood Beat," "The Insiders," "Charlie & Company," "George Burns Comedy Week" and Robert Wagner's "Lime Street," which he called "a lemon" before it went on the air.

Schulman's assessments are based not only on his gut reaction to pilot episodes, but also on the past performance of series stars and producers, the time slot and the competition.

This year he remains on the side of "Miami Vice," saying that it "will nip 'Dallas' by one or two share points." In reruns, he adds, "Vice" will bust "Dallas." On the basis of those predictions, schulman says, "We are the only agency in the city picking NBC to win friday night. Everybody's picking CBS."

He sums up the week in the following, neatly organized progression of ratings victories: Sunday and Monday, CBS; Tuesday and Wednesday, ABC; Thursday, Friday and Saturday, NBC.

"The one with the up side right now is ABC. They still have their best numbers in front of them. 'Moonlighting' could be going into a very big year. The 'Perfect Strangers' and 'Head of the Class' block will deliver a good-sized audience for 'Dynasty' and 'Hotel.' 'Disney (Sunday Night Movie)' will help Sunday night as well. 'MacGyver' could play very well in front or in back of 'Monday Night Football.'

"On regular programming, not counting specials and miniseries, last year CBS had a two-rating-point advantage over ABC. This year that will be cut in half.

"NBC has to fix its Tuesday night. The quicker it fixes that problem, the better off they are."

Some other of Schulman's hits and misses for 1986-87:

--Critics are lauding "L.A. Law" and Schulman agrees it will be a hit--"but not right away. By the end of November, however, it will overtake "Falcon Crest" and continually lead in its time period, Fridays at 10 p.m. after "Vice."

--"Designing Women," to be seen Mondays at 9:30 p.m. on CBS, might be mistaken for "The Silver Girls," since it stars a quartet of witty women a la NBC's "The Golden Girls." But it will be a hit; "it's very funny and it fits beautifully between 'Newhart' and 'Cagney & Lacey.' "

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