The latest news from the TV beat -- The networks shuffle shows such as NBC's ''Will & Grace'' and lose audiences

By Joe Flint
Updated January 08, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

If your supermarket kept moving your favorite foods to different aisles, eventually you’d get so frustrated you’d shop somewhere else, right? Alas, the networks have yet to learn that lesson.

Lately it seems that every time you finally figure out where a show is, it’s up and gone. Take NBC: In an effort to shore up its disastrous Monday-night lineup, the Peacock decided to relocate Mad About You from its Tuesday perch to Mondays at 9 p.m. In the process, Will &amp Grace — the one Monday show with any life — got shipped off to Tuesdays. Such abrupt changes of address could backfire and simply alienate the few viewers who were tuning in to the struggling sitcoms.

”The networks are no longer in the position where they can inform all of their viewers about changes before they happen,” says Steve Sternberg, senior partner of TN Media. ”A lot of Mad About You [fans] are not even aware it’s now on Mondays.” In fact, the ratings for the first Monday airing of the show bear that out: It averaged only 8.7 million viewers, a new low.

This is not to say that all moves are unwise. CBS pushed Everybody Loves Raymond from 8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays and increased viewership by 10 percent. Seinfeld became a hit after it switched to Thursdays in 1993. But those moves were made before the TV season had started. As for ABC’s mid-season decision to move Cupid to Thursdays — that just may give the drama the sort of exposure that it’s never gotten in its Saturday slot.

The trick is picking your battles. The most abused victim of overzealous schedule changes, 3rd Rock From the Sun, was a Sunday hit for NBC until they pushed their luck and moved it to Wednesdays, foolishly thinking it could take on ABC’s The Drew Carey Show. So NBC decided to move it once again. The result? Now Sun‘s getting burned on Tuesdays. ”They can try it somewhere else,” sums up Sternberg, ”but they’ve already killed it.”