Speculation about the networks' fall lineups made news the week of April 10, 1998

Many happy returns?

Is The Nanny nearing retirement? Can Frank Black make it to the Millennium? Will the fat lady sing for NewsRadio? With just six weeks to go before announcing next fall’s schedules, the networks are determining which veteran shows should be put out to pasture.

NBC’s big question mark is NewsRadio, a show which has suffered from several ill-fated time-slot moves. The sitcom’s producers were particularly displeased with the most recent transfer from Tuesday (sandwiched between hits Mad About You and Frasier) to Wednesday at 8 p.m., where ratings have bottomed out. But although nary one NBC suit showed up at NewsRadio‘s wrap party last month, Peacock insiders are betting the show will return. Bottom line? NBC needs quality sitcoms.

The Peacock has stuck by low-rated, critical favorites before; witness the long life of Homicide: Life On the Street, which was just renewed for another season. Would-be thrillers Profiler and The Pretender are another story; both are ratings-challenged and critical duds, but NBC insiders say Profiler has a better shot at coming back.

Fox’s big debate: Will Millennium return for a third year? Probably, thanks to creator Chris Carter, a man Fox can’t afford to alienate. This season, X-Files alumni James Wong and Glen Morgan managed to inject some creative life into the dour drama; perhaps, given a reprieve, they can raise it from the ratings dead too.

Except for the fate of Ellen, ABC’s decisions should be no-brainers. What’s to wonder about when there are so few hits? Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and The Practice will be back; Soul Man and Friday-night staple Boy Meets World will likely return.

At CBS, imports from ABC (Family Matters and Step by Step) are already history; NBC recruit JAG will continue to fly. Eye execs are contemplating folding Early Edition, however, and under-performing good old girls Cybill and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman look to be in danger as well. Oddsmakers are betting even money Drescher’s Nanny will survive.

Must-Fix TV

Thursday — a once powerhouse night for the network — is now in serious need of overhauling. No, not for NBC — we’re talking Fox.

For years, Martin, Living Single, and New York Undercover were successful alternatives to NBC’s unbeatable lineup — Fox ranked No. 2 for the night in adults 18-49. But efforts to broaden programming beyond the ”urban” (i.e., black) demo flopped — casualties include Scott Baio’s Rewind (which never aired) and the drag comedy Ask Harriet. Fox even attempted retooling (read: adding white characters to) NYU, with no luck. ”The [show’s] core audience was not pleased with the attempt,” says NYU producer Dick Wolf. The unlikely outcome: CBS’ Promised Land, Diagnosis Murder, and 48 Hours are now second in the 18-49 age group.

And so on

CBS’s plan to unleash Howard Stern against Saturday Night Live — which we reported two months ago was just a few dotted i’s away from being realized — is now a firm go. Debut date could be as early as this summer when SNL is in reruns.