Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi The Seinfeld Minefield

By Devin D. O'Leary

FEBRUARY 9, 1998:  After seven seasons of unimpeachable viewership and fat revenues on Thursday night's Must See TV, NBC executives now find themselves staring into the abyss. There are just eight more new episodes of "Seinfeld" left to air. Once those are out of the gate, there will be no more. So now that the happy downhill ride for NBC's gravy train is over, what will happen to Thursday night's line-up?

That's the question currently dogging everyone in TV Land. Not only are NBC's ratings at stake, but so are the ratings of every network that took their weekly Must See TV beating and smiled through the pain. Executives at ABC, CBS and FOX are all eyeing each other nervously and wondering how to juggle their schedules. FOX has already jumped the gun by premiering their new comedy series "Ask Harriet" in the 7:30 slot following NBC's still-strong evening opener "Friends." Unfortunately, the man-in-drag show has gotten horrid reviews and bottom basement ratings, so it may already be ruled DOA by the time NBC loses "Seinfeld."

More interesting to note is FOX's recent test moves of "King of the Hill" to Thursday nights. "King of the Hill" is one of the few breakaway hits of last year and has garnered consistent top 10 ratings in its normal Sunday night slot. The show has even been building on (and sometimes eclipsing) the ratings of its lead-in, the veteran war-horse known as "The Simpsons." FOX thinks that "King of the Hill" has built a sizable enough audience that it could anchor a winning Thursday night line-up. NBC learned its lesson the hard way about bumping shows from successful nights to "anchor" other nights. "Caroline in the City," "Newsradio" and "3rd Rock From the Sun" all suffered near catastrophic ratings drop when unseated from their cushy timeslots. "King of the Hill" is also the first truly compatible companion for "Simpsons," and FOX execs would be foolish to tamper with their winning "Simpsons," "King," "X-Files" triptych.

Though CBS and ABC are taking a "wait-and-see" approach to Thursday nights, NBC is working quickly to plug the hole in their schedule. The most likely show to benefit right now looks to be "3rd Rock From the Sun." Just recently, NBC gave "Rock" the plush after-Super Bowl spot and has been trying the show out in "Union Square's" 7:30 Thursday spot. "Union Square" is the abysmally unfunny link in Must See TV's chain and needs to be given the heave ho before "Seinfeld" departs. "Just Shoot Me" has also shown enough savvy and strength on its own night to merit Thursday night inclusion. A test screening at 7:30 last Thursday had "Just Shoot Me" retaining 99 percent of "Friends"' audience. With numbers like that, expect a quick return engagement.

When the dust settles and the Thursday night patch-and-polish job has been completed, though, Jerry Seinfeld will still be remembered as master of his domain.

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