Quit renewing failing shows, and our other advice for network presidents

By Joe Flint
Updated October 22, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

As we enter the next millennium you will face many challenges to remain the dominant medium. Shrinking audiences, rising costs, competition from cable and the Internet are just a few of the headaches threatening the bottom line. That said, the future doesn’t have to be so bleak. Just tweaking some of the ways you do business can make for better shows and bigger bucks. Herewith, some presidential policies we’d like to see instituted:

Abolish celebrity welfare

We love Friends, and by all means creators Bright/Kauffman/Crane should be given every opportunity to make that kind of lightning strike twice. But let’s face it, even TV geniuses screw up occasionally (see also: Snoops). And try as you might, no amount of time-slot changes or plot tweaks are going to improve B/K/C’s Veronica’s Closet and Jesse — so please quit renewing them. Besides, you’re not really doing Kirstie Alley or Christina Applegate any favors by keeping them handcuffed (no matter how goldenly) to such drippy vehicles.

Institute saner economic policies

We know this whole network ownership concept is here to stay, but at least make this pledge: If a pilot stinks, don’t put it on the air just because you have a stake in it. Exhibit A: There’s no way the intelligent programmers at NBC who gave us Will & Grace and Providence didn’t know from day one that The Mike O’Malley Show was a bomb. Millions were spent shooting and reshooting, and it still got yanked after two airings. Doesn’t sound like good business to us. The same goes for scheduling: ABC gave the primo time slot behind The Drew Carey Show to the new and unproved Oh Grow Up instead of to budding hit Norm simply because the net was able to snag ownership in the former while the Norm folks refused. (Result: Both shows are now flailing.) Trust us: There’s more money to be made selling ad time for a hit you don’t own than for a clunker that you do.

Stop catering to special interests

There’s no proof that big names bring in the viewers — just ask David Caruso (R.I.P. 1997’s Michael Hayes) and Tony Danza (ditto 1997’s The Tony Danza Show). That’s why it’s always a bad idea to try to build a show around an engaging personality instead of seducing said personality with a well-fleshed-out role. It’s a lesson that Fox may soon learn with Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Party of Five spin-off Time of Your Life, a show whose pilot had to be completely reworked.

Be pro-choice

Instead of always hewing to the pack mentality, take a cue from ABC’s surprise success with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Who’d have thought it was possible to create such a small-screen fervor these days? Unfortunately, now every network is bringing back moldy oldies such as What’s My Line? (CBS) and Twenty-One (NBC). Guess what? They’re not going to work. Just like all the Friends clones a few years back, this genre’s going to see a lot of casualties before it wins its next war.