Bruce Fretts' memo to the networks: Learn from ''The Fugitive'' and ''Bette,'' or watch your future ratings plummet

By Bruce Fretts
Updated June 05, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Tim Daly, Mykelti Williamson, ...
Credit: The Fugitive: CBS
  • Movie dissects TV’s biggest flops

To paraphrase Santayana (or was it Brandon Tartikoff?): Those who ignore the TV mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. So as the networks ready their new fall lineups, it’s a good time to look back on last season’s biggest flops and try to glean a few lessons on what NOT to do.

”The Michael Richards Show” (NBC)
WHAT WENT WRONG Some people are just born to be sidekicks. On ”Seinfeld,” you looked forward to Kramer’s trademark entrances, but the wacky neighbor quickly becomes annoying if he never leaves. As private detective Vic Nardozza, Richards did slapstick in nearly every scene, and his pratfalls merely fell flat. RELEVANT TO Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who’ll try to break the ”Seinfeld” curse with his ABC motivational-speaker sitcom ”Bob Alexander” and her untitled NBC midseason comedy about a lounge singer.

”Bette” (CBS)
WHAT WENT WRONG In Ms. Midler, you had a star whose contempt for the medium in which she was working seeped from her every pore. RELEVANT TO Midler’s equally prickly ”Down and Out in Beverly Hills” costar Richard Dreyfuss, who’ll star in CBS’ history-professor drama ”The Education of Max Bickford.”

”The Geena Davis Show” (ABC)
WHAT WENT WRONG Davis’ character — a high-powered PR exec who marries a single dad despite the fact that she doesn’t really want kids — was unappealing, and she had less-than-zero chemistry with costar Peter Horton. RELEVANT TO Jim Belushi, whose title character doesn’t appear likable and whose rapport with TV wife Courtney Thorne-Smith seems questionable in the ABC comedy ”The Dad.”

”Cursed” / ”The Weber Show” (NBC)
WHAT WENT WRONG An unworkable concept — a guy (Steven Weber) on a never-ending bad-luck streak — was quickly abandoned, leaving a generic singles-in-the-city sitcom. RELEVANT TO Breckin Meyer, who’ll inherit the post-”Friends” slot with another seemingly ill-conceived sitcom: ”Inside Schwartz,” about a guy whose dating woes are recapped in ”Sports Center”-style highlight reels. Soon to be retitled ”The Meyer Show.”

”Normal, Ohio” (FOX)
WHAT WENT WRONG John Goodman as a gay guy? Please. RELEVANT TO Ellen DeGeneres, who’ll play it gay again but won’t make it the focus of CBS’ sitcom ”The Ellen Show.”

”The Fugitive” (CBS)
WHAT WENT WRONG A victim of been-there, done-that syndrome. The update of the David Janssen TV drama / Harrison Ford movie was quite well-made (Tim Daly deservedly received a Screen Actors Guild nomination for his lead role). But viewers responded to the series the same way Lt. Gerard did to Dr. Richard Kimble’s protestations that he didn’t kill his wife: ”I don’t care.” RELEVANT TO Robert Blake, who’s currently starring on every network in a non-fiction remake of ”The O.J. Simpson Story.”

The Fugitive

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 130 minutes
  • Andrew Davis