Plus, why the reworking of a sitcom often spells disaster

By Lynette Rice
October 30, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST
Xena: Geoffrey Short
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GETTING NO ACTION Last week’s announcement that ”Xena: Warrior Princess” will hang up its sword this summer cuts two ways: Fans will not only lose their favorite femme fatale, but the syndicated action hour business may also be bowing out. Local TV stations don’t need many weeknight alternatives like ”Xena” anymore, thanks to the expansion of the WB and UPN.

As a result, actioners have been relegated to weekends, where they face smaller audiences and frequent sports preemptions. ”Xena is as good today as it was when it first came on,” says Steve Rosenberg of Studios USA, which produces the series and ”Jack of All Trades,” another recently axed syndie series. ”But the viewers just aren’t there.”

Actually, some are. Studios USA has been bombarded with letters from angry fans, demanding that it find ”Xena” a cable home. But with over 130 episodes in the can ready for syndication, Studios USA doesn’t have much incentive to keep producing the costly $1 million plus per episode drama. So the saga of the ancient female warrior could indeed be history.

OVERHAUL OF FAME The curse of the retooled show continues: Fox’s spooky drama ”Freakylinks” underwent an overhaul complete with new producers and writers, but it’s still perilously close to cancellation with a woeful 2.8/ 8 average 18 ? 49 rating. That doesn’t bode well for the heavily reworked ”The Michael Richards Show” and John Goodman’s continuously revamped ”Normal, Ohio,” which has been surrounded by rumors that Goodman is unhappy and that creators Bonnie and Terry Turner wanted to push the debut back to midseason.

Since reworked shows always sport the stench of failure, why are there still so many of them? ”It goes to the change that’s taken place over the years,” says veteran sitcom scribe Nat Bernstein, who, along with writing partner Mitchel Katlin, walked off ”Cursed,” NBC’s new Steven Weber sitcom, after network execs started using the ”R” word (the retooled series now centers on a man who is unlucky rather than one who’s definitely had a curse placed on him). ”You’re now collaborating with the networks and sometimes two studios that feel they should have more active participation in the creative process.”

Still, there’s at least one retooling success story: ”Touched by an Angel” was created by John Masius but quickly commandeered by Martha Williamson after the pilot came across as too dark and far fetched. Now it’s just far fetched.

AND SO ON… The WB needs serious help to launch a successful comedy, so could it be ”ElectraWoman and DynaGirl” to the rescue? The net’s expected to team with Sid and Marty Krofft Pictures — the dynamic duo responsible for such vintage kids fare as ”H.R. Pufnstuf” and ”The Bugaloos” — to remake the campy ’70s series that starred Deidre Hall (”Days of Our Lives”) as a journalist by day, caped crusader by night.

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