How many cop shows can prime time hold? asks Bruce Fretts

By Bruce Fretts
Updated March 22, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
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Big Apple: Craig Blankenhorn/CBS
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  • CBS
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Why ”Big Apple” is in trouble

On paper, ”Big Apple” seemed promising: A New York City set crime drama from cocreators David Milch (”NYPD Blue”) and Anthony Yerkovich (”Miami Vice”), featuring a talented ensemble including Ed O’Neill, Michael Madsen, and David Strathairn. Yet the CBS series (Wednesdays, 9 p.m.) is shaping up as midseason’s biggest ratings disappointment, losing viewers in each of its first three airings. How did ”Apple” go rotten?

Start with the scheduling. An overconfident Eye network put the untested rookie in the path of NBC’s steamroller ”ER” (a strategy that helped kill ABC’s ”Murder One,” from Milch’s ex-partner Steven Bochco). CBS figured it could hold more of the ”Survivor”/ ”CSI” lead-in than snoozemag ”48 Hours,” but the improvement was minimal. The numbers only got worse when after two weeks ”Apple” shifted from Thursdays at 10 p.m. to Wednesdays at 9 p.m. (due to NCAA coverage), where it faced another NBC behemoth, ”The West Wing.”

Such a schedule switch didn’t hurt ”Survivor,” but the clashes between the Kucha and Ogakor tribes pack more viewer appeal than the turf wars between the NYPD and the FBI on ”Apple.” Without the more commercially minded Bochco to rein him in, Milch has indulged in typically cryptic dialogue and murky story lines, and this artiness has only served to alienate mainstream audiences (each episode has declined in viewership from its first half hour to its second).

But here’s the real problem: Viewers need another New York cop show like they need a hole in the head. You can see the NYPD on TV almost any night of the week now. On Mondays, it’s NBC’s underrated ”Third Watch,” which mixes New York’s finest with firefighters and paramedics. Tuesdays belong to ABC’s ”NYPD Blue,” which has been renewed for two more seasons, despite the fact that it long ago sunk into soap operatic self parody: babealicious Garcelle Beauvais just joined the show as an assistant district attorney, and she’s already dating hunky detective Henry Simmons; her male counterpart in pulchritude, Esai Morales, makes his debut April 3.

Wednesdays find Denis Leary’s acerbic ABC cop comedy ”The Job,” which had to split its opening night audience with ”Apple,” as well as NBC’s ”Law & Order,” which has been renewed through 2005. ”Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” rules Friday, and the franchise is set to launch another spin-off, ”Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” in the fall. When even so fertile a mind as Tom Fontana can’t make a New York cop show work (with his short lived UPN series ”The Beat” last season), you know the genre has been tapped out.

At this point, the only way to save ”Big Apple” might be to add a few ”Survivor” castoffs to the cast. Hardcore New York personal trainer Alicia and ex-cop ”Mad Dog” Maralyn — now those two could really squeeze a perp’s shoes.

Big Apple

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  • CBS

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