Which TV shows have heat -- and which don't? James Cameron steps in to save ''Dark Angel,'' but Ken Tucker wonders if anything can help ''Once & Again''
Jessica Alba, Dark Angel
Credit: Jessica Alba: Fox

Which TV shows have heat — and which don’t?

We love TV for its unpredictability in all areas except celebrity-boxing (that, apparently, is a sure eyeball-attractor). But nothing is as unpredictable as when a television series begins to lose its heat — whether you define that as its hype or its esteemed reuputation, or both.

For instance, who’d have thought that the extraordinary ”Once & Again” — so poorly rated in its Fridays-at-10 time-period and an indavertant pawn in an ABC power-play when ABC decided to move Barbara Walters’ long-running newsmagazine out of that spot, incurring the wrath of Baba her bad self — should suddenly raise its profile by moving to Mondays at 10? In the past two weeks since its move, ”O&A” has been scoring some of its highest ratings and even getting a little media buzz with last week’s ”controversial” kiss between two teenage-girl characters.

As anyone who watches this beautifully nuanced series knows, that subplot wasn’t, like another Monday-night show ”Boston Public,” doing something racy for the sake of ratings; it grew out of a long-running identity crisis that one of the young people in the show has been undergoing for more than a season now. ”Once & Again” is still probably destined for cancellation; even with fresh heat, it doesn’t attract big Nielsen numbers, but if more people watch one of the best-written and -acted shows in prime-time for however much longer it exists, jolly good for it.

On the other hand, look at a series such as Fox’s ”Dark Angel.” Last year, the show was one of the most high-profile additions to its season, with star Jessica Alba deemed by the media (including Entertainment Weekly) as a hot up-and-comer, its dark-fantasy backdrop leant credence by the fact that this sci-fi adventure was co-created by ”Titanic” director james Cameron.

A year later, do you know many people who are still hooked on ”Dark Angel”? To me, the series quickly devolved into a pretty ordinary strong-girl-battling-evil punch-up, with few interesting subplots. Now it’s sinking in the ratings faster than? well, I wouldn?t want to invoke the Titanic again, but anyway, it’s not doing well. In an effort to give the show a boost, it was announced last week that Cameron himself would direct the second-season finale, tentatively scheduled for May 3 — the first time the feature-film guy has directed a TV show.

Will Cameron’s decision — clearly a message to Fox, with whom he might also do future movie business — help keep ”Dark Angel” afloat? More importantly, do you care?

What shows that have sunk in popularity do you still watch with enthusiasm? What shows that you used to like have faded off your personal radar?

Dark Angel
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