Shows getting last chance to hang on


If you read the sports pages these days, you see a lot about college basketball teams that are "on the bubble." That means they are decent teams that may or may not get an invitation to take a dip in the money river known as the NCAA basketball tournament. A good performance in one of the various season-ending tournaments is crucial to keeping the bubble intact.

But it's not only basketball teams that are on the bubble these days. Next month the three networks will begin deciding which series will stay and which will go as they remake their prime time schedules for the fall. Performance in the next few weeks is crucial as can be seen in what's going on in a few series airing tonight.

At 9:30, it looks like love, or at least a physical facsimile, on what was originally supposed to be "Anything But Love." Tonight's half hour, which will be on Channel 13 (WJZ), begins with the series' lead characters -- Marty and Hannah, played by Richard Lewis and Jamie Lee Curtis -- waking up the morning after.

What follows is essentially a series of blackout sketches about various aspects of becoming intimate with someone you've known as a friend for a long while; the odd combination of comfort and anxiety that situation brings.

There is a rather frank discussion of sexual performance that is written wittily enough to keep it above the level of titillation. There's the awkwardness of the am-I-supposed-to-leave-now? moment in the morning. There are clever parodies of "The Front Page," "A Streetcar Named Desire, " Noel Coward and "Twin Peaks" as Hannah and Marty try to imagine what the reaction will be at the office to their new-found relationship.

RTC Next week, they go into the office and find out that the problems aren't with their co-workers but with themselves as they try to balance professional obligations and personal feelings.

"Anything But Love" threatens to be ABC's equivalent of "Designing Women." It's a series that won't die even though the network keeps trying to kill it off. It was canceled in last year's bubble-bursting time, but then got an order for more episodes.

And it's made the most of that with a three-episode guest shot by John Ritter, who owns a piece of the show, as a potential suitor for Hannah, a move that brought out Marty's true feelings.

So now it's consummation time as the producers of the show seem to understand that if they don't get the viewers now they're not going to have to worry about how they're going to have this pair in the sack together and still keep the tight-wire tension alive for another season.

These episodes show the weaknesses and strengths of "Anything But Love." From the beginning, starting with its title, it has put too much emphasis on its central relationship, forcing it to carry too many episodes.

In "Cheers," Sam and Diane were at the center of the show from the start, but the writers could always back off and do an episode about the other characters in the bar. In "Anything But Love," the other characters at the office have pretty much just been comic window-dressing for Hannah and Marty.

But there's clearly a lot of talent here, some excellent moments between the unfortunate descents into farce. Bottom line, too, is that there is definitely a well-above-average number of laughs. It's a funny show. And, if Curtis would be content to be the straight woman of the duo and leave the gag lines to Lewis, it would be even funnier.

After that, at 10 o'clock on Channel 2 (WMAR), the inventive "Quantum Leap" returns from the purgatory of Friday night, as NBC tries to find an audience for this time travel anthology hour. It reappears on Wednesday with its main character, Scott Bakula's Sam Beckett, leaping into the body of a very pregnant teen-ager in 1955.

What happens strains the bounds of "Quantum Leap's" time travel rules. It's properly within Beckett's baby boomer lifetime, but he's only supposed to assume the appearance of the people whose place he is taking, yet here he is apparently pregnant and on the verge of giving birth.

It's a bit gimmicky, but still interesting and, though the solution is somewhat telegraphed, poignant and touching as Beckett and his hologram pal Albert, played by Dean Stockwell, go about setting right yet another minor wrong in history.

"Anything But Love" and "Quantum Leap" aren't the only shows on the bubble. CBS gave on-hiatus "WIOU," the well-written, high-class soap operatic series set in a TV newsroom, a Monday night homecoming before returning it to Wednesdays -- tonight, 10 o'clock, Channel 11 -- to see if it can attract any sort of audience with its last few original episodes.

So many shows, so few time slots. Boats against the current of the money river.

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