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And in This Corner . . . : Some Old Favorites Go Head-to-Head in New TV Season

August 29, 1995|TED JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's bound to be jarring: "60 Minutes" ends and, for the umpteenth time, viewers wait Sunday at 8 p.m. for Jessica Fletcher to poke around for clues to a murder.

Instead, come Sept. 17, they'll be transported light-years away from Cabot Cove to the sophisticated, very adult world of "Cybill," starring Cybill Shepherd.

If they don't like that, they'll have other attractive places to turn: NBC's "Mad About You," which is moving to Sundays; ABC's "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" or Fox's "The Simpsons." They can even see "Murder, She Wrote" reruns, which the USA Network has slyly scheduled in the time period now that CBS is shifting the first-run episodes to Thursdays.

Just how does "Cybill" plan to keep viewers from switching channels?

"We're going to solve a lot of murders on this show and open it with Cybill typing," executive producer Jay Daniel deadpans.

Once again this fall, the networks have gone cutthroat--even if it means breaking with 11 years of tradition and moving "Murder, She Wrote" from its Sunday home. Viewers will scurry to program their VCRs, or will become completely frustrated, as they find one favorite show slotted against another and some of the most eagerly anticipated new series given the toughest time slots.

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There's Thursday, when NBC's monster hit "ER" will fight ABC's new Steven Bochco series "Murder One"; Tuesdays, when "Roseanne" goes against "Wings" and the new CBS drama "John Grisham's The Client"; and Wednesdays, when ABC's "Ellen" faces CBS' new sitcom "Bless This House," as well as Fox's "Beverly Hills, 90210" and NBC's "seaQuest DSV."

But it's Sunday--the most-watched night of the week--that's viewed as the most competitive this season.

"There are four worthy shows in that time period, four shows that have all worked," says Leslie Moonves, president of CBS Entertainment. "It's clearly an interesting battleground."

While "Lois & Clark" gained strength last season, and "The Simpsons" will continue to draw families and children, the consensus among advertising executives is that the contest for first place will be between "Cybill" and "Mad About You."

"It could very well end up a tie," says Barry Cooper, manager of network analysis for BBDO Worldwide, a New York advertising agency. " 'Cybill' is starting with a much bigger audience [from "60 Minutes"], but she's going to lose it."

As could be expected, NBC executive Preston Beckman sees "Mad About You" as stronger and its CBS sitcom competitor as "nothing more than a satellite show."

"I honestly believe that 'Mad About You' is the most 'Murder, She Wrote' friendly," says Beckman, senior vice president for program planning and scheduling. "I don't know where '60 Minutes' is compatible to 'Cybill.' "

Last year, "Mad About You" increased its ratings in the leadoff position of NBC's Thursday night lineup, even though network affiliates saw their ratings drop with syndicated programming in the half hour before the comedy.

"I just don't think 'Cybill' is a 'Roseanne' or a 'Home Improvement,' " Beckman says, referring to two of ABC's ratings powerhouses.

NBC slotted "Frasier" against "Home Improvement" last year and came in a strong second in the time period. "I feel more comfortable with this ["Mad About You"] move," Beckman says. "The potential is to go in there and win the time period."

On the other hand, CBS executives and "Cybill" producers see their show as a rising star against several aging series.

" 'Mad About You' is a fine show," producer Daniel says. "We just hope that 'Cybill' is a little bit fresher because 'Mad About You' has been on for a long time."

The networks also have pitted high-profile comedies on Tuesdays at 8 p.m., with ABC's "Roseanne" against NBC's "Wings," and on Wednesdays at 8 p.m., with ABC's "Ellen" versus CBS' "Bless This House," a highly promoted comedy described as a "Honeymooners" for the 1990s starring Andrew Clay and Cathy Moriarty.

The Wednesday shows will be competing with Fox's "Beverly Hills, 90210," which had been regarded as aging at the start of last season but went on to enjoy its best season ever.

"You have to give credit to '90210' for attracting that young adult audience," says Alan Sternfeld, ABC's senior vice president of program planning and scheduling. "We've all been chasing them."

Advertising experts see CBS as trying to lure those viewers at 9 p.m. on Wednesdays, when "Central Park West" will air. The soap opera, revolving around a group of young, bold and beautiful adults in Manhattan, was created by Darren Star, who created "90210" and "Melrose Place."

Similarly, CBS also has scheduled "American Gothic"--a dark, "Twin Peaks"-esque drama about an evil sheriff in a small Southern town--at 10 p.m. on Fridays, right after Fox's paranormal thriller "The X-Files."

Both moves are viewed as risky, given that the network is seemingly trying to benefit from another network's lead-in.

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