Many series continue to be snubbed by everybody but the viewers


HOLLYWOOD -- They are the Rodney Dangerfields of series TV: no respect from the critics, never on magazine covers, shut out at Emmy time.

But they are not ignored by the people who count most -- the viewers. They are the quiet hits of the airwaves, audiences pleasers that place in the top of the weekly Nielsen ratings.

They range from shows that are lucky enough to sit in a comfortable time slot, such as the No. 4-ranked "A Different World," to "Hunter," which is holding steady at No. 47 but is No. 1 in its time slot against such critically ballyhooed shows as CBS' "WIOU" and ABC's "Cop Rock."

Producer Fred Silverman has several hidden hits on television -- NBC's "Matlock," "In the Heat of the Night" (which holds the distinction of delivering the fatal blow to "Moonlighting") and the "Perry Mason" movies. His CBS series "Jake and the Fatman" is a more moderate hidden hit.

Silverman has been around long enough to expect that such shows get little press.

"These are not trendy shows," he said. "When 'thirtysomething' went on, it was a trendy show. It was fun to write about. 'Twin Peaks' and 'China Beach,' these shows get hot for a very short period of time and then they go away.

"I promise you next year at this time, there won't be a word written about 'Twin Peaks,' if it is still around. You hardly see anything about 'China Beach' anymore. I figure it is a lot sexier to write about them than 'Matlock' and 'Jake and the Fatman,' which are like old shoes."

Silverman's series usually skew to older audiences. "I would be a liar if I said they didn't," he said. "But they don't do badly with the younger demographics. 'Matlock,' 'In the Heat of the Night' and 'Jake and the Fatman' are in the middle range of series among 18- to 49-year-old viewers."

It does, however, anger Silverman that his productions are snubbed every year by the Emmy voters. (Carroll O'Connor is a rare exception. He won an Emmy last year for "In the Heat of the Night.")

"I think there is terrific work done on these shows," Silverman said. "I think Andy Griffith deserves at least an Emmy nomination for 'Matlock.' I didn't go to the Emmy Awards this year. I didn't look at them on the air. It's a sham."

NBC's detective series "Hunter," starring Fred Dryer as Los Angeles detective Rick Hunter, is another quiet hit with broad appeal. In its seventh season, "Hunter" has weathered both schedule and cast changes.

"We are the most popular hour police show on TV," said Larry Kubik, co-executive producer. "We are seen in 88 countries. We are No. 1 in China, South America and Germany."

The reason for its success?

"I think Fred Dryer is perceived as the John Wayne of his generation," Kubik said. "I think that women love him and men kind of look up to him. I think the character of Rick Hunter is steeped in a '60s morality. I think he has old values that TV audiences are used to. He doesn't do things that are out of character. He is not going to have an affair with a married woman. The morality of his character is something audiences feel comfortable with."

Kubik believes "Hunter" is ignored because it was initially perceived to be an atypical action series in the vein of "The A-Team," because both were created by Stephen J. Cannell. "The show was that, but it evolved out of it," said Kubik.

"I started changing a lot of what I did," said Dryer, who is also co-executive producer of the series. "Producer Roy Huggins came in the second year and asked me what I thought about the show. We started working together and, for the most part, it got its feet and legs with Roy. Then we kind of like refined it.

"But why don't people write about it? And why don't these shows and producers get credit for being successful? I think the Emmy society is very closed and narrow. I think they are inbred with their own self-indulgence. We have done some very good shows, with great performances and directing jobs. I think we have lasted the test of time. We have made an impact. The show came from nothing and it bypassed 'Miami Vice.' This is the seventh season, and I am very happy with an awful lot of things."

A show virtually ignored is "Unsolved Mysteries," originally a series of specials. The NBC reality program, hosted by Robert Stack, has outscored its competition -- including ABC's "The Wonder Years" and "Growing Pains" -- almost every week since its premiere two years ago.

Initially, the critics did not ignore NBC's "A Different World." "The Cosby Show" spinoff starred Lisa Bonet and scored high in the ratings with its time slot immediately after "Cosby," but it was a critical disaster. Bonet left the series after the first season when she became pregnant.

Actress-turned-director-producer Debbie Allen was brought in to breathe some life into "A Different World" during its second season. She revamped the series, which has featured such guest stars as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and tackled such heady subjects as apartheid.

"The whole thing about Lisa Bonet," Allen said, "is that the girl is very talented.

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