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10 Ways to Fix TV

No, we’re not talking about your fuzzy reception. Here’s our careful analysis of what’s wrong with many of today’s shows (yes, that includes you, ER), which stars are in desperate need of career advice, who deserves more screen time, and how to make

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1 YOU SHOULD ALWAYS RELY ON YOUR OLDEST AND DEAREST ‘FRIENDS’

So you were hooked on Friends again this season? Why the uptick in interest? We think it’s because of a simple but crucial element at the core of making good TV: The writer-producers who first made the show great (in Friends’ case, Marta Kauffman, David Crane, and Kevin Bright) are still around to roll up their sleeves and bring back the glory days. Here are some other shows that should go back to their creative fountainheads.

— NYPD BLUE: TRACK DOWN DAVID MILCH It was writer-producer Milch who gave Andy Sipowicz his greatest story lines — alcoholism, racism, brutality — and avoided what the current NYPD suffers from: too many goo-goo eyes in the station house; pointless romances and not enough hard-boiled tales of our brave but flawed law enforcers. Please, somebody buy the back-pained Milch a comfy chair and give him the Blues again.

— FRASIER: BRING BACK JOE KEENAN Keenan, an astute comic novelist of gay manners (Putting on the Ritz), gave early Frasier a witty flair the show has abandoned recently. The badinage Keenan oversaw between Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier and David Hyde Pierce’s Niles turned sitcom fare into airy farce. Returning Keenan to the fold would give Frasier the jolt it needs.

— MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE: PUT LINWOOD BOOMER TO WORK The first season of Malcolm, creator-producer Boomer’s writing credits were all over the episodes — you sensed he was using Frankie Muniz’s character to exorcise childhood demons, getting back at dumb adults while creating screwed-up-but-lovable parental units. This past season, Malcolm needed a few more laughs — it’s become a little shrill and unfocused. It needs Boomer’s guiding intelligence to bring Malcolm back into the middle of the show’s heart.

— DAVID LETTERMAN: EMBRACE CHRIS ELLIOTT Back in Dave’s NBC days, writer/weirdo Elliott was a constant delight, whether as The Man Under the Seats, or as his normal out-there self. That element of wackiness is missing from the present Late Show. Elliott’s goofy sitcom Get a Life faded fast on Fox, but he could bring new life to Letterman. — Ken Tucker

2 Let Ozzy Show the Way

The insta-success of MTV’s The Osbournes could teach network execs a thing or two about how to prove their ratings metal. To wit:

— FAMILY VALUES ARE A LOAD OF BULL#@$% Too often, so-called family programming delivers either force-fed morality (Touched by an Angel) or strained irreverence (My Wife and Kids). But like The Bernie Mac Show and The Simpsons, Ozzy and Co. subvert notions of ”normal” while still displaying the affection that exists in dysfunctional (read: real) households.

— KEEP IT SIMPLE Unlike its crowded reality-show siblings, The Osbournes has a scaled-down cast, with the emphasis on the titular foulmouthed foursome. The result: Quality time with the characters allows them to transcend mere stereotypes.

— LEAVE ‘EM WANTING MORE In a wise show of restraint, the series gave us an appetite-whetting 10 episodes, kicking us out before we got too comfy.