The latest news from the TV beat

By Lynette Rice and William Keck
Updated October 25, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Top of the Morning

How’s this for a java jolt: Instability over at NBC’s Today (where exec producer Jonathan Wald just left after struggling for 16 months to fill the shoes of predecessor Jeff Zucker) and CBS’ The Early Show (where Harry Smith, Julie Chen, Hannah Storm, and national newcomer Rene Syler will soon take over on-air duties) seems to be giving a big boost to the perennially No. 2-ranked Good Morning America. The ABC yakker, which has averaged 4.62 million viewers per week, needs only 1.06 million more to surpass the top-rated Today (5.68 million), while Early still lags far behind with a mere 2.47 million. As Today viewership continues to drop (down 9 percent from last year), a source says coanchors Katie Couric and Matt Lauer tried to persuade ex-Today senior producer Michael Bass — who moved on to run Early — to return, but Bass declined. Now GMA boasts the most stable team in morning TV, and exec producer Shelley Ross is ready to reignite the charge for No. 1. ”I wish we could sit back and say, ‘We can take a breather now,’ but it doesn’t change things. We don’t look at the stability or instability of our competitors. We go in there and fight the battle every day.”

‘Crossing’ Over?

The new TV season has proven absolutely deadly for NBC’s sophomore forensics drama, Crossing Jordan. At the end of last year the show easily won its Monday time slot in key demos and overall viewers, but all of a sudden it’s getting sand kicked in its face by CBS rookie CSI: Miami. The David Caruso vehicle has attracted an impressive 21.5 million viewers, more than twice the typical 10 million turnout for the Jill Hennessy-starring Jordan. The story is the same among adults 18-49: Miami’s winning, Jordan’s losing — but not by a large enough margin to prompt a move off Mondays. ”We had modest but realistic expectations for Crossing Jordan,” says NBC head of scheduling Mitch Metcalf, who isn’t overly concerned by the show’s lackluster performance. ”We have to congratulate CSI: Miami, though; it’s brought new viewers into the time period. It’s not all coming out of Jordan’s hide.” Of course, NBC’s coffers are in danger of taking a hit: The net’s syndication arm, which is trying to hawk Jordan rerun rights to cable outlets, hasn’t exactly seen its phone lines lighting up. ”Obviously, with the ratings down, that doesn’t help,” says Bill Carroll, VP of programming at Katz TV Group. Nevertheless, NBC is still pro-Jordan. As long as it maintains current viewership levels, says Metcalf, ”this show will not ride off into the sunset.”

AND SO ON… Now it’s time to see how much the folks at CBS really do love Raymond. Come this May, contracts will be up for Ray Romano and his namesake sitcom (Patricia Heaton and most of the show’s supporting cast are locked up through 2005), which means negotiations are about to commence. If Romano agrees to another year, his future salary could rival Kelsey Grammer’s (who, as the highest-paid television actor, earns $1.6 mil per episode), up from his current $800,000-plus per episode. ”If we have stories to tell and the people want to see it, I would say definitely one more year,” says Romano. ”Last year I thought we were going to run dry, and we had our best year ever, and I’m already pleasantly surprised the way this year is going.”

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