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NBC made a mistake by canceling ''Titans''

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Casper Van Dien, Yasmine Bleeth, ...
Bleeth, Van Diem: Kevin Foley

NBC made a mistake by canceling ”Titans”

Last week, NBC exercised its hyperactive trigger finger yet again — and drove soap opera fans everywhere to don sackcloth and ashes — when they canceled ”Titans” after two months. The Aaron Spelling serial, which starred Yasmine Bleeth and Casper Van Dien as oversexed Beverly Hills rich folks, was a camped up throwback to the primetime sudsers of the ’80s. But like several nighttime soaps before it — including ”Dallas,” ”Dynasty,” and ”Knots’ Landing” — ”Titans” was taking time to build an audience. After eight weeks, the show was averaging about 8 million viewers, landing it in 83rd place overall. Even as a rabidly devoted fan, I know those numbers pretty much suck.

That said, ”Titans” was important to the 2000 TV season (and thus deserved some more time to find a fan base) because there was nothing else like it on television. It stood out among the woefully bland crop of big star driven sitcoms (like the unfunny ”Bette” and John Goodman’s ill conceived ”Normal, Ohio”) and dry dramas (i.e., ”The Fugitive” and ”Boston Public”). By attempting to revive the primetime soap genre, NBC was actually taking a risk — a tremendous feat, given that most network execs would rather hack off their own feet and eat them than alienate one viewer.

Sure, the show was silly, and a guilty pleasure, but that was the fun of it. Viewers once embraced the gleefully ridiculous antics on ”Melrose Place,” and had NBC given ”Titans” a full season to catch on, they could have had that audience — and probably an even bigger one. Bleeth alone put more over the top gusto into a single line of dialogue than Heather Locklear did in a whole season of ”Melrose.”

I defy anyone out there to name a more enjoyable scene this season than the recent confrontation between Heather (Bleeth) and her nemesis, Gwen (Victoria Principal): After dumping a bowl of chicken soup Gwen just brought her on the floor, a bedridden Heather purrs: ”Lick it up on your way out.” Principal’s priceless response: ”Get down on all fours? That’s more your specialty.” That beats the saccharine moralizing on ”Judging Amy” any day.

But the bottom line for ”Titans” came down to the bottom line for NBC: The cost of producing such an expensive series was too much for execs to bear without getting instant ratings gratification. But there’s an argument to be made that networks would be a lot better off in the long run if they stopped looking for immediate — and unrealistic — ratings wins and instead invested in shows that have potential for long term runs. ”Titans” would have been such a show. Successful primetime serials usually run for five years or more; they also rake in millions in overseas sales, and have the most potential to become the type of programming TV network execs dream about: ”appointment television.”

Though NBC had the courage to put ”Titans” on the air, they didn’t have enough to follow through with the risk. So while we add another nail to the coffin of the primetime soap opera genre, let’s try to keep hope alive that someday the networks will learn to practice a little patience.

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