Time today for a journey into the recesses of prime-time television's dim, dark past (namely, last fall), and an even bolder journey into its future (the coming season). But first, a quiz:
How many viewers out there remember these titles, let alone much about the shows involved? "E.A.R.T.H. Force." "Hull High." "Cop Rock." "Working It Out." "Over My Dead Body." "D.E.A." "Lifestories."
Hard, isn't it? Yet those were some of the hopeful new series which premiered just last fall. Long gone by now, they fell victim to one of the least enthusiastic viewer receptions of an autumn season in memory.
The most recent season-to-date ratings from the Nielsen people, for example, show that just one new fall series ranks within the top 30 series of the year: ABC's "America's Funniest People," which benefited from the preceding "America's Funniest Home Videos" phenomenon.
The networks are now into their annual spring tinkering period, wherein both new and previously aired series (such as last spring's "Shannon's Deal" returning on NBC/Channel 2 at 10 tonight) get some tryout time.
In the meantime, of course, the programmers are also playing around with new shows for the fall, 1991 schedules, to be announced later this spring.
So it seems an appropriate time for another of this column's periodic attempts to let viewers speak out. And the question is: ++ Which, if any, of the new 1990 series are worth holding over into fall, 1991?
Imagine you are in the programming department at each of the four networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) and are entitled to vote for one show guaranteed to appear on the fall lineup. Which would you choose? If none, why not?
Eligible are shows that made their debut in the fall, or others which had some limited exposure last spring (such as "Down Home," "Seinfeld," and "Northern Exposure.") If you want to plead for an already-canceled show, that's OK, too.
Send your votes, along with brief comments about the choices, to: Steve McKerrow, The Evening Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Fax entries are acceptable; send to: (301) 332-6666.
Now stay tuned. We'll sample the voting in this space in about a month. And to help you get started, here are four worthies as seen from this corner:
* ABC -- "Gabriel's Fire," with James Earl Jones. Currently bumped from its Thursday-at-10 p.m. slot by new scheduling for "Twin Peaks" -- the network says it will return in a new time period in April -- the show is a solid drama in which Jones is a former cop/convict who is an investigator for an idealistic young attorney (Laila Robins).
* CBS -- Just one? There are several candidates on this network, which is having a better season than expected in the ratings, including "Evening Shade" (Burt Reynolds and Marilu Henner) and (believe it or not) "The Flash." But the top vote has to go to "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill," the Monday-at-10 p.m. drama with Sharon Gless as a divorced public defender.
* Fox -- Although still scoring with "The Simpsons," "America's Most Wanted" and "Married With Children," Fox had nothing in its new fall shows that came close to finding as many viewers The newly premiered high school docu-drama "Yearbook" (Saturday at 8:30 p.m.) is getting good notice, but we kind of like "Good Grief," the Sunday-at-9:30 sitcom with comic Howie Mandel as an irreverent undertaker.
* NBC -- The network's best new show, "Working It Out" (with Jane Curtin and Stephen Collins) got an early ax. Now we're torn between an occasionally bright rap-oriented sitcom, "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (Monday at 8 p.m. with with Will Smith) and the classy crime and punishment drama "Law and Order" (Tuesday at 10 p.m.). What the heck. Save 'em both, NBC.