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DUMPING OF `SAJAK’ SURPRISES NO ONE

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My goodness, aren't we all surprised that "The Pat Sajak Show" has been dumped by CBS?

What? We're not surprised?Just because the ratings were rotten, the guests were weak and Sajak was vapid? Just because Dan Miller made Ed McMahon look like a tower of talent?

Just because the changes they made to "improve" the show - including moving to the worst-looking talk show set in the history of television - only made things worse?

The big mystery here is how this turkey managed to hang on for 15 months. (My guess is that network execs didn't want to admit their horrible mistake in sending Pat out to challenge Johnny.)

At any rate, after Friday "Sajak" is history. And Pat is already history. He's vacationing in Europe this week, and when a CBS executive flew to England to tell him the news over the weekend, Sajak declined an offer to return to California to tape a farewell.

He didn't even want to come back and trash the $5 million set CBS built for the show, a la Joan Rivers when she was fired by Fox.

Not that Sajak is out of work. Perhaps seeing the handwriting on the wall, he recently signed a new contract to continue as host of the syndicated version of "Wheel of Fortune."

And he reportedly has nine months left on his no-cut contract with CBS.

KSL-TV, CBS' local affiliate, isn't shedding a lot of tears over "Sajak's" demise.

"It wasn't doing that well . . . and the compensations wasn't that great for us," said David Manookin, KSL's program director. "If it were a hot program in there that we could sell our spots for a good price, that would be one thing. But that's not the case.

"It's too bad. (Sajak)'s a nice guy, but he just didn't come across well."

CBS is still debating about what to run in place of "Sajak," but it appears the network will go back to rerunning prime time shows - with "Wiseguy" reportedly a strong possibility. The network announced it will have original programming ready by fall.

But KSL isn't overly excited about running network programming, at least until that new programming comes on. Manookin said they'd rather run their own shows, a move that would be much more profitable for the station.

Actually, Sajak's defeat came more at the hands of Arsenio Hall than Johnny Carson. CBS didn't expect Sajak to beat "The Tonight Show" - the hope was that he could finish a respectable second to the King of the Night and move up to first when Carson retires.

But the syndicated "Arsenio Hall Show" punched a hole in Sajak's trial balloon. Not only did Hall beat Sajak handily in most markets (Utah is an exception) but he drew the young viewers advertisers covet.

And in the end, what was purported to be Sajak's strength did him in. He was billed as a mellow, non-abrasive late-night personality viewers would be comfortable with.

Mellow turned out to be dull, and that's a tough handicap to overcome in television.

***

In another attempt to revive its dreadful ratings, CBS will pay Universal big bucks for the rights to broadcast 10 movies before they get to pay TV.

That's the way things used to be, but it's been more than a decade since box office hits were on free TV before making their way to HBO, The Movie Channel or Showtime.

The films include "Born on the Fourth of July," starring Tom Cruise; Spike Lee's controversial "Do the Right Thing"; and "Field of Dreams," starring Kevin Costner - a natural for the network that now broadcasts baseball.

The other movies are "Uncle Buck," "Sea of Love," "Fletch Lives," "K-9," "The Wizard," "Renegades" and "Shocker."

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And in other CBS news (this is getting to be a lot about the last-place network, isn't it?), somebody up there must like Valerie Bertinelli.

Her new sitcom "Sydney" has been languishing in the ratings, but is about to get two boosts. First, it will swap places with "Normal Life" and switch to 7 p.m. Wednesdays. CBS originally announced the schedule this way, but for some unfathomable reason decided to lead off with the horrendous "Normal," starring the Zappa kids.

Second, on Monday, April 23, "Sydney" will play at 7:30 p.m., between "Major Dad" and "Murphy Brown." Kind of gives credence to reports the network is high on Bertinelli despite low ratings.

***

"Newhart" fans, take note. Beginning April 30, the final four episodes of this modern classic will move to 7:30 p.m. Mondays.

CBS has not announced what it will schedule in "Newhart's" old 9 p.m. slot.