Which TV shows should be canceled -- which saved? Bruce Fretts gives his verdict on ''Dharma & Greg,'' ''Watching Ellie,'' ''24,'' and seven other series

By Bruce Fretts
Updated April 15, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Watching Ellie
Credit: Julia Louis-Dreyfus: NBC

Which TV shows should be canceled — which saved?

It’s nervous time in TV land. As the networks put fall pilots into production, prime-time shows that are still struggling to find an audience sit on the proverbial ”bubble” between cancellation and renewal. Some of these series should get popped (Fox’s ”That ’80s Show,” ABC’s ”Dharma & Greg” and ”Spin City,” CBS’ ”Family Law,” and NBC’s ”Leap of Faith” spring to mind). But here are five that deserve a reprieve:

WATCHING ELLIE (NBC) Is it the second coming of ”Seinfeld?” Nope. Is it flawless? Nope. Does it have potential? Out the wazoo. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ comeback vehicle tries too hard to break the sitcom mold; its weakest aspect is the forced ”real-time” gimmick, which NBC is already playing down (the countdown clock now only appears in the corner of the screen immediately before and after commercial breaks). Its virtues are old-fashioned ones — a solid ensemble (the supporting trio of Steve Carell, Don Lake, and Peter Stormare deliver major yuks) and smart writing (from the likes of stand-up Jeffrey Ross and ”NewsRadio” vet Joe Furey). NBC would be wise to give ”Ellie” time to find an audience. Remember, ”Seinfeld” wasn’t an out-of-the-box hit either.

24 (Fox) Now here’s a show where ”real time” really works. Kiefer Sutherland’s race against the clock to thwart an assassination attempt has surpassed my creative expectations (I was skeptical the pilot’s suspense could be maintained), even as it’s fallen short of great ratings expectations. The drama has developed a modest but loyal following, but there’s talk that if it returns next season, episodes will be more self-contained. That would be a shame. ”24” has earned the right to live another day as is.

THE JOB (ABC) Denis Leary’s cop comedy took a while to find its voice, but in its second season, it’s grown into one of TV’s finest half-hours. It works as both a belly-laugh generator (thanks to cutups like Lenny Clarke, Bill Nunn, and Adam Ferrara) and an affecting serial, as Leary’s Mike McNeil juggles addictions to booze, pills, and his pain-in-the-ass mistress (Karyn Parsons). Move it away from time-period competitor ”The West Wing” and tired lead-in ”Drew Carey” and ”The Job” just might have a shot.

ED (NBC) I blame NBC’s promo department for this once-rising show’s sophomore ratings slump. The small-town dramedy gracefully segues between goofy gags and more serious storylines, but the Peacock’s ads never reflect both sides. It veers from ”Kelly Ripa kisses Ed!” to ”Ed fights racism in a Very Special Episode.” No wonder the show isn’t doing as well as Wednesday slate-mates ”The West Wing” and ”Law & Order.” Viewers don’t know what to expect. The truth is, every ”Ed” episode is Very Special.

ANDY RICHTER CONTROLS THE UNIVERSE (Fox) I’ve gotta confess I was never a big fan of Richter’s when he was Conan O’Brien’s sidekick. Yet he’s hugely endearing as the lead on this delightfully surreal sitcom. The trouble is, it airs opposite ”Watching Ellie,” so neither show has been able to accumulate enough of an audience to break out. And it replaced ”Undeclared,” another underachieving Fox comedy that merits a sophomore session. If I controlled the universe, I’d renew all three shows.

Which endangered series would you like to see renewed?

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