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Original cable series try to make the grade

Apr 1, 2002  •  Post A Comment

While high-visibility broadcast repurposing and big-money sports contracts may be the buzzwords these days, cable networks know a hit original prime-time series is still the key to defining a network.
Approximately 15 series have debuted in basic-cable prime time since the first of the year, along with several highly promoted late-night offerings. Is there a prospective new must-see cable series out there in the further reaches of the channel spectrum? The tentative answer is yes, but only if, after its initial order, it comes back.
Two new series have caught the imagination of viewers and critics and reaped huge (by cable standards) initial tune-ins. MTV’s “The Osbournes” has been a surprise hit, and so has FX’s “The Shield.” The former is the often hilarious “reality” sitcom look at former Black Sabbath rocker Ozzy Osbourne and his real-life wife and kids at their real home in Beverly Hills. “Ozzie and Harriet” they’re not, though the show plays their much-bleeped cross-talk and the incongruities of their daily lives as deadpan as any ’50s situation comedy.
“The Shield” is a gritty, bleeding-edge-of-the-envelope police drama set in a crime-ridden, run-down part of Los Angeles. Both series look like potential A-players.
Play it again, Ozzy
However, on the downside, “The Osbournes”’ initial production order is a wrap, and Ozzy, though he’s talking to MTV, hasn’t yet signed up for another 13 episodes, so make that an A-minus. And FX’s “The Shield” is so controversial that it may be alienating its own advertisers and some segments of the audience, too. And despite its gangbusters debut, there is still no decision on whether it will be renewed, so call it a B-plus.
Meanwhile, USA Network’s high-profile midseason debut, “Combat Missions,” from Mark Burnett of “Survivor” fame, hasn’t reaped a fraction of the attention that “The Osbournes” and “The Shield” have garnered. Its play-war games may be a victim of the real war in the news. Whatever the reason, “Missions” has failed to win the hearts and minds of the Nielsen families. It hasn’t improved on its lead-in, and it is trending down. Call it not so much a misfire as the wrong show at the wrong time in history-and give it a C-minus.
TNN’s “Conspiracy Zone,” in which former “Saturday Night Live” comic Kevin Nealon is just as likely to track Elvis to Roswell, N.M., as to reveal the secrets of the pyramids, has already been renewed, which, despite its falloff from its lead-in in households, is good enough for a B-minus grade. Nickelodeon’s new stalwart, “The Nick Cannon Show,” and its latest kids show, “ChalkZone,” are both good bets for renewal too, so call them B’s.
In late-night, VH1’s hotly promoted “Late World With Zack” has left viewers cold. Both it and “Redeye,” the new series that follows it, are flunking the Nielsen test. Looks as if it’s back to the scheduling board.