Robert Wuhl: Randy Tepper
Lynette Rice
June 29, 2001 AT 04:00 AM EDT

POOR SPORTS Pity ”Arli$$.” By HBO standards, the six-year-old comedy is a sleeper at best; ratings for the show, starring Robert Wuhl as a greedy sports agent, don’t compare to ”The Sopranos” or ”Sex and the CITY,” and TV critics are fond of using the series for batting practice. Plus, consider this latest blow: On June 17th, HBO relegated the show to 10:30 p.m., putting it behind new series ”Six Feet Under.” Though ”Arli$$” attracted its largest-ever audience of 3.8 million viewers during its June 10 premiere, it still lost 30 percent of ”Sex”’s viewers — which likely prompted the time slot change.

But HBO’s far from throwing in the towel: The cabler’s already ordered scripts for a seventh season. ”It’s a perfect HBO show. It takes on a subject matter in a real and honest way,” says HBO president Chris Albrecht. ”It hasn’t gotten the kind of response from TV critics [that other HBO series have], but we’re interested in pleasing subscribers.” Meanwhile, the show continues to attract big-name athletes for cameos; this season’s offerings include Olympic sprinter Marion Jones, St. Louis Ram Marshall Faulk, and Olympic swimmer Dara Torres. But the bigger get for Wuhl is a growing female fan base. ”They are realizing that it’s about the characters,” says the star, ”not about the jock mentality.” Fair enough — but are there any episodes about Manolo Blahniks?

MISSING ?MENACE’ A series of promos on Fox earlier this year led viewers to believe ”The Phantom Menace” would make its television debut this season. Talk about watching the glow flicker out of that lightsaber: May sweeps came and went without the ”Star Wars” prequel. ”Given the state of the soft advertising marketplace, we couldn’t sell it for what we believe we could have gotten for it,” explains scheduling VP Preston Beckman. Fortunately, fans won’t have to wait much longer: Fox will debut the movie in November.

CAT-ASTROPHE When it comes to controversy, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals isn’t known for pussyfooting around — but its new ad starring copulating kitties is giving even the most tolerant cable broadcasters pause. The 30-second pet-control spot — which features animatronic felines fooling around while their owner is away — premiered in February, when PETA pal Pamela Anderson unspooled it on ”The Tonight Show.” The group attempted to buy airtime during ”Temptation Island”’s finale, only to be turned down by 20 Fox affiliates. Finally, after rejections from MTV, Discovery Channel, and Bravo, the amorous animals found a home this month on cable video channel Much Music, and the Baltimore Fox affiliate has now agreed to air it in prime time. ”We were trying to appeal to animal lovers — like the little old lady who has seven cats that she would never get spayed or neutered,” says Nicholas Racz, the clip’s director. ”[We wanted] to make her go, ‘Oh, my God — that’s what these things do when I’m not looking!”’ That, and maybe watch ”Sabrina.” –Brian M. Raftery

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