''Over the Top'' and ''Monday Night Football'' made news the week of September 26, 1997

TOP THIS: Spin control is never easy. Just ask veteran producer Robert Morton (formerly of Late Show With David Letterman). Last week, ABC said it was delaying the premiere of Morton’s new comedy, Over the Top, from Sept. 23 to Oct. 21. Faster than you could say Rewind, the speculation was that Top was just one more sitcom Edsel in need of major repairs.

Not true, says Morton, who nevertheless does acknowledge that ”the pilot left a little to be desired” and that changes have indeed been made. Originally set in upstate New York, where Tim Curry (playing an out-of-work thespian) helps ex-wife Annie Potts run a Fawlty Towers-esque bed-and-breakfast, Top is now based in the Big Apple, with Curry doing double duty as a struggling actor. ”We needed to give Tim a bigger playing field,” Morton contends, which the urban environment will provide. A more pressing problem was the cast, which, Morton admits, ”was not as comfortable with each other as we wanted.” Enter eternal sidekick Martin Mull, who will be one of many sitcom stars appearing in two different shows this year (he also has a semi-regular role on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch).

ABC is claiming it opted to delay Over the Top (slotted for 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays) because it didn’t want its 8 o’clock lead-in, Soul Man, to have to face off against NBC’s Mad About You, which is sure to generate big numbers when the Buchmans bring home baby. (Soul Man will now temporarily move to 8:30, with Home Improvement reruns leading in.) But it’s not like the network wasn’t aware of Baby Buchman when it originally scheduled Top‘s premiere dates. Furthermore, now Top will have to launch opposite game 3 of the World Series on NBC. Both Morton and Columbia TriStar Television have been pushing to have its debut changed, but so far ABC is holding firm.

Don’t cry for Morton, though. If Top goes under, he’ll still have his Panamort Television to keep him busy. Not only is he working with Homicide and Oz masterminds Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson on a variety/comedy show for ABC, he’s also developing Missing Links, which he describes as ”Cheers at a public golf course.” Originally headed for ABC, the show has now moved over to Fox, where another Morton project, Deadline Now, a parody of a newsmagazine, is also in development.

GRIDIRON DEFICIENCY: Bloodlusting linebackers aren’t the only things out of whack over at ABC’s Monday Night Football. The season premiere Packers-Bears game two weeks ago posted the lowest numbers in the franchise’s history (although, with 21.6 million viewers, it still was No. 1 for the week). And the following week’s Chiefs-Raiders draw was equally disappointing. The culprit? Nielsen, grumbles ABC. Like most Big Four execs, Alphabet suits have a beef with the veracity of the ratings service’s numbers — and those for sports in particular, since Nielsen has never factored in the bar crowd. Then again, cable doesn’t seem to have taken a hit. Football coverage on TNT has been doing gangbuster business. Sept. 7’s Cowboys-Cardinals matchup tackled 9.8 million viewers, a record for the network.

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