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On The Air

The latest news from the TV beat

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No Pain, No Gain

This much we know: Migraine headaches have kept Malcolm in the Middle mom Jane Kaczmarek away from her Fox show, forcing producers to scrap two episodes and cull together two more using footage the Emmy-nominated actress had already shot. Here’s what we don’t know: whether her illness has anything to do with a growing epidemic in TV land — using ”sickouts” as a calculated ploy to get mo’ money. So far, alleged ailments have struck the supporting cast of Becker and Judging Amy’s Tyne Daly. Even The West Wing’s Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, John Spencer, and Bradley Whitford (Kaczmarek’s husband) threatened to stage their own flu-out before scoring nifty pay raises. ”It’s a great equalizer, the sickout,” says one network executive. ”It has given talent some plausible deniability, and representatives have become more sophisticated [about it].” Parties close to Kaczmarek say the actress is indeed sick and that her contract negotiations began long ago, but Fox insiders are skeptical about the timing — perhaps because Kaczmarek’s attorney is Peter Nelson, the same guy who shrewdly repped the West Wingers (he declined to comment). In any event, net suits seem resigned to the fact that specially timed sickouts are spreading, and there isn’t a cure in sight. Says one exec, ”If it were a waste of time, actors wouldn’t be doing it.”

Serial Killer?

It turns out there’s likely no Rose Bowl Parade in store for Fox’s Pasadena. If the freshman sudser starring Dana Delany (above) — which only averaged 4.3 million viewers before Fox yanked it after four episodes — ever makes it back to the prime-time lineup, it won’t be until July, an insider says. Even then, chances are slim that producer Mike White’s serial will see a second season because the network hasn’t locked up the lead actors — giving them free rein to find other work. It’s too bad, says Peter Traugott of Brillstein-Grey TV (which produces the drama), who believes viewers would have eventually moved to Pasadena. ”We shot all 13 episodes, and they just get better and better. The last five episodes actually made people cry.” We’re guessing he doesn’t mean for mercy.

AND SO ON… Color this trend dead: None of the broadcast networks have animated shows in development for fall, and it’s unlikely we’ll see a return of Fox’s Futurama and Family Guy (they averaged a pathetic 6.2 million and 4.7 million viewers, respectively, this season). ”Like any program, it’s gotta be good, and animation is not enough to carry a show,” says analyst Tim Spengler of Initiative Media North America. ”The networks are not trying to force the genre, which is good.”