December 18, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

Ladies and gentlemen, we face a serious problem in our TV nation: overpopulation. Put simply, too many shows have too many characters. As inflation strikes ensembles, fan favorites are forced to compete with extraneous regulars whom the writers must shoehorn into the script. As a result, we never get enough of the cast members whom we really want to see. Fear not, my fellow Americans. I’m proposing a comprehensive piece of legislation that will resolve this situation — if the TV powers that be follow these five easy guidelines:

1. No show with a number in its title can have more than that number of people in its cast. Call this the Eight Is Enough rule. The most egregious offender in this arena is Fox’s Party of Five, which has swelled to a party of twelve lately. Why is Griffin (Jeremy London) still living at the Salinger house after his separation from Julia (Neve Campbell)? Why does Kirsten (Paula Devicq) cater to Charlie (Matthew Fox), now that he has fathered a child with Daphne (Jennifer Aspen)? Jennifer Love Hewitt’s spin-off will help alleviate this matter next fall, but further action needs to be taken sooner. The five chosen to remain in the cast don’t even have to be the Salinger siblings; with Claudia (Lacey Chabert) at boarding school back east, it’s the perfect chance to write her out. This law also applies to The WB’s 7th Heaven. The title refers to Stephen Collins, Catherine Hicks, and their five kids, but now that they’re expecting twins, two have to go.

2. No lawyer show can have nonlawyers as regulars. This means you, Ally McBeal. Attorneys Calista Flockhart, Greg Germann, Gil Bellows, Peter MacNicol, Courtney Thorne-Smith, and Lisa Nicole Carson are fine, but irritatingly quirky assistant Jane Krakowski and caterwauling crooner Vonda Shepard do not belong in the opening credits. Bear this in mind, David E. Kelley, and reconsider your decision to add irritatingly quirky assistant Marla Sokoloff to The Practice‘s opening credits come January.

3. No show can overstuff its cast in the name of gender equality. Apparently concerned that Connie Britton was its only female regular, Spin City added two more last season, Victoria Dillard (as Barry Bostwick’s nondescript secretary) and Jennifer Esposito (as Michael J. Fox’s Brooklynite secretary). Trouble is, their characters aren’t funny. Yet they get screen time at the expense of Michael Boatman and Alan Ruck (not to mention Fox). Possible solution: Give Boatman and Ruck’s odd-couple roomies the Spin-off they so richly deserve.

4. No show with uninteresting characters can add more uninteresting characters. We could tolerate Veronica’s Close when Dan Cortese was the worst it had to offer. Sure, he wasn’t as gifted a comic actor as Kirstie Alley, Wallace Langham, Kathy Najimy, or even Daryl ”Chill” Mitchell, but at least he tried hard. Now that the profoundly humorless Ron Silver has gone into the Closet as Alley’s new business partner, the show has become officially unwatchable. Hey, Ron, you used to be on Rhoda — stop taking yourself so seriously!

5. This law is not enforceable in the land of Oz. Maybe it’s because HBO’s commercial-free prison drama has a full hour to tell its stories instead of the standard 45 minutes. Or maybe it’s because creator Tom Fontana is, like, a really good writer. Whatever the case, Oz has juggled more than 20 characters without crowding out key inmates like deranged yuppie Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) and nasty Nazi Vern Schillinger (J.K. Simmons). Hey, Oz breaks every other rule on TV, so why not this one?

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