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CBS HAS A WINNER IN `CYBILL'; DAVE BOOSTS OSCAR RATINGS

When "Cybill" premiered in January, your local television editor wasn't entirely enthusiastic.

"There's hope for this sitcom, but some changes have got to be made or in a few months Shepherd will be trying to explain her latest failure," I wrote.Of course, you never really know what's going to happen to a series after it debuts. Some shows put every good idea into the pilot episode, then immediately run out of gas.

Other shows - a small minority of shows - get better as they go along.

Remarkably, "Cybill" is one of the latter. This sitcom has turned out to be the best new comedy on CBS since the show that precedes it, "Murphy Brown."

And "Murphy Brown" is in its seventh season.

For the uninitiated, "Cybill" stars Cybill Shepherd as a forty-something actress whose career isn't exactly going great guns and whose personal life includes two ex-husbands, two daughters (the older of whom is married and pregnant) and an outrageous best friend.

Shepherd shows no reluctance at all to lampoon her own life, which includes a spotty career, two ex-husbands and three kids. Watching her battle for a lousy soap opera role with Morgan Fairchild or seeing her be slighted by a pair of young actresses (a thinly veiled reference to those Olsen twins on "Full House") is often hilarious.

The ex-husbands (Alan Rosenberg and Tom Wopat) are a nice touch - although Rosenberg is often so laconic it's hard to understand why Cybill was ever married to him, let alone why she's begun dating him again. The daughters need a bit of work - the teenager (Alicia Witt) is, to this point, a caricature of the rebellious teen and the young married (Dedee Pfeif-fer) has been seen so little that she has yet to make much of any impression.

But what really adds zing to this show is the relationship between Cybill and best-friend Maryann (Christine Baranski) - the wealthy divorcee whose drinking problem didn't end when she left the Betty Ford Clinic. In the pilot, Maryann was a bit too over the top - too anti-male, and far too drunk.

But since then, Baranski, a Tony Award-winning actress, has been an absolutely delight to watch. She's outrageous, sly and wickedly funny. And the chemistry between Cybill and Maryann is what makes "Cybill" as good as it is.

Not that it's necessarily original. In many ways, "Cybill" is an Americanized version of the British sitcom "Absolutely Fabulous." (Which, unless you get Comedy Central on your cable system, most Utah viewers have never seen.)

"Ab Fab" centers on two fortysomething women who drink too much, do the occasional drug and spend far too much time chasing after men. The main character, Edina, has two ex-husbands and a child by each of them - just like Cybill.

But the real similarity is between "Cybill's" Maryann and "Ab Fab's" Patsy (Joanna Lumley, who in 1976 partnered with Patrick Macnee on "The Avengers"). Patsy is a great deal more over the top, but both she and Maryann drink too much, are more than a bit bitter and completely dependent on their female best friend.

At times, the two even dress alike in tight-skirted tailored suits.

None of which makes "Cybill" any less entertaining. Just, perhaps, less original.

And the emergence of "Cybill" as a genuine hit might make things a bit difficult for the authorized American version of "Absolutely Fabulous." None other than Roseanne herself has bought the rights to the British comedy, and she'll produce (but not star in) a version of the show for this side of the Atlantic.

In the meantime, Cybill and Maryann just keep rolling along, gaining momentum and viewers along the way.

OSCAR RATINGS UP: There's been more than a little carping about David Letterman's performance as host of the Academy Awards last week, but the fact is that Dave did what ABC hoped he would do.

He lifted the Oscars to their highest ratings in a dozen years.

According to ABC, 81 million viewers watched all or part of the awards presentations last Monday, some 7 million more than watched last year. The show pulled a 32.5 rating and a 53 share of the audience, the highest ratings since 1983.

Particularly pleasing to the network was the big jump in young male viewers - the kind of viewers that advertisers hunger for and pay big bucks for.

The telecast drew 12 percent more viewers ages 18-49 than last year, and 26 percent more men in that demographic. The viewership among adults 18-34 was up 20 percent, and a whopping 30 percent more men 18-34 tuned in.

And the network is attributing that increase to Letterman, who appears to have brought his audience with him to prime time.

All of which is an immediate, affirmative answer to the question of whether Dave will be invited back as host next year. Whether he'll accept, only Letterman knows.

But here's betting that he will come back to prove he can improve on his first Oscar-night performance.

LOCAL TV NEWS NEWS: Beginning this week, KTVX-Ch. 4 will shift its Saturday early evening newscast from 5 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. - the same time that the station airs its newscast on the other six nights of the week.

Every so often a programming move makes so much sense you wonder why no one thought of it before.

Meanwhile, over at KUTV-Ch. 2, they're going to expand their early morning newscast from an hour to 90 minutes as of Monday, April 17. The program will air from 5:30-7 a.m. (That pushes "NBC News at Sunrise" back to 4:30-5:30 a.m.

Apparently, KUTV is pursuing that big TV audience out there that's watching between 5:30 and 6 a.m.

TV TRIVIA: Jennifer Grey will make an appearance on NBC's "Friends" on Thursday, playing Rachel's (Jennifer Aniston) former best friend.

And the two have more in common than simply this show. They both played Ferris Bueller's sister.

Grey, of course, played Jeannie Bueller in the hit 1986 movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," in which she co-starred with Matthew Broderick.

And if you don't remember Aniston as a Bueller, you're not alone. She played the role in the inferior, short-lived "Ferris Bueller" sitcom, which starred Charlie Schlatter, that aired briefly in 1990.

DAYTIME NUMBERS: In case you're wondering, yes, CBS is still No. 1 in daytime ratings and "Young and the Restless" is still the top-rated daytime show.

For the week ending March 26, CBS was the top-rated network for the 316th week in a row. And "Y&R" was also on top, continuing a seldom-interrupted streak it began seven years ago.

Here are the top 10 daytime shows, their networks and ratings. (A rating point represents 954,000 homes; a share point equals 1 percent of the homes actually watching TV at any one time.)

1. "The Young and the Restless," CBS, 6.8/23

2. "General Hospital," ABC, 5.7/19

3. "All My Children," ABC, 5.6/18

4. "Price is Right 2," CBS, 5.3/21

(tie) "The Bold and the Beautiful," CBS, 5.3/17

6. "Days of Our Lives," NBC, 5.0/16

7. "One Life to Live," ABC, 4.9/17

8. "As the World Turns," CBS, 4.3/15

9. "The Price is Right 1," CBS, 4.2/17

10. "Guiding Light," CBS, 4.0/13

FOX RULES SATURDAY MORNINGS: So, just how dominant is Fox on Saturday mornings? Very.

Here's a list of the top-rated series among children ages 2-11, the network and the show's rating and share for the most recent Saturday available, March 25. (Each rating point represents 954,000 homes; the share is the percentage of homes actually watching TV).

1. "Power Rangers," Fox, 8.4/33

2. "Eek!stravaganza," Fox, 7.6/26

3. "Spider-Man," Fox 7.5/28

4. "Batman & Robin," Fox 7.0/24

5. "Animaniacs," Fox 6.1/32

6. "The Tick," Fox 6.0/23

7. "X-Men," Fox 5.6/24

8. "Aladdin," CBS 5.2/18

9. "Free Willy," ABC 4.3/17

10. "Fudge," ABC 4.3/16

And here are the 10 most-watched show among 6 to 17 year olds:

1. "Spider-Man," Fox, 6.2/27

2. "Power Rangers," Fox, 6.0/31

3. "Eek!stravaganza," Fox, 5.7/26

4. "Batman & Robin," Fox, 5.3/22

5. "Animaniacs," Fox, 5.0/33

6. "X-Men," Fox, 4.9/22

(tie) "The Tick," Fox, 4.9/21

8. "Fudge," ABC, 3.7/16

9. "Tales from the Cryptkeeper," ABC, 3.6/16

10. "Reboot," ABC, 3.5/15