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Old shows still best on the block


Strong performances by longtime favorites, such as "ER" and "NYPD Blue," have been the salvation of network television this fall.

Now that executive producers Steven Bochco and David Milch have only "NYPD Blue" to worry about, the series seems reinvigorated. They transformed the loss of actor Jimmy Smits into a brilliant story arc on the death of his character, Bobby Simone.

This week, they took a successful first step in plugging Rick Schroder into the ensemble as Det. Bobby Sorenson. Funny how all the "Silver Spoons" jokes and wisecracks about Schroder's career as a kid actor have stopped once people saw him in the role. It looks like he's going to make it as the partner of Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz), no easy task.

"ER," the No. 1 show on television, got a nice little boost from the addition of Kellie Martin as a third-year medical student. It's still No. 1 and probably will be next year at this time, even with George Clooney gone.

"Law & Order" is rock-solid in the quality department, with newcomer Angie Harmon doing just fine as assistant district attorney Abbie Carmichael. The series is also becoming a ratings workhorse for the struggling network. NBC twice used it during November as a lead-in to "Homicide: Life on the Street," in an attempt to help out our hometown favorite.

As for "Homicide," it is finishing third in its time period behind "20/20" and "Nash Bridges," down only slightly from where it was last year at this time. But it has yet to hit stride artistically in the wake of Andre Braugher's departure.

The new lineup has not yet meshed. The father-son relationship between Yaphet Kotto's Al Giardello and Giancarlo Esposito's Mike Giardello started with promise in the season opener but hasn't caught dramatic fire. Then there is all the who's-dating-who stuff this year. It never was the strength of the series, and highlighting it is not helping matters.

Still, "Homicide" has one of the greatest writing and producing staffs in the history of dramatic television, and you have to believe the series is going to start playing in the big leagues with "NYPD Blue" again before the season ends.

The brightest spot in an otherwise troubled fall for NBC has been Thursdays without Jerry. "Friends" is actually doing better than last year -- up in the ratings and now finishing second among all prime-time series, as compared with fourth last year. "Frasier," meanwhile, which made the move from Tuesdays, ranks third among all shows in the old "Seinfeld" spot.

On Fox, "The Simpsons" slipped from 33rd last year to 42nd, but that's nothing compared with "King of the Hill," which went from 26th to 89th in ratings after its move to Tuesdays.

On the bright side for Fox, "Ally McBeal" jumped from being the 83rd highest-ranked show last year at this time to 21st this year. Executive producer David E. Kelley's other drama, ABC's "The Practice," is also delivering the goods both in ratings and drama.

Pub Date: 12/05/98

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