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Money, fear may be catalyst for new time slot for `Frazier’

SHARE Money, fear may be catalyst for new time slot for `Frazier’

According to NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield, the decision to give "Frasier" the old "Seinfeld" time slot on Thursday nights this fall came down to two things - money and fear.

Well, that's not quite the way he put it. But that was his message.Although Jerry Seinfeld announced back in December that he would be calling it quits, Littlefield said the decision on how to replace his show wasn't made until just before NBC's fall schedule announcement in May.

"We were looking at just how strong we thought `Just Shoot Me' was. And the more we looked at it, we said, `Wow. "Just Shoot Me" could be the young Turk that goes in there at o'clock,' " Littlefield said. "And we felt pretty good at that.

"At the same time, we also felt that `Friends' was a natural to move into that time period."

So, for a time, NBC programmers considered putting "Friends" on Thursdays at 8 p.m. and giving "Just Shoot Me" the Thursday at 7 p.m. time slot.

But then, Littlefield said, they began to worry about how other networks would counterprogram on Thursday nights. "So the more we looked at it, we said, `OK, we're kind of addicted to that 28 share lead-in we get from `Friends,' " he said - which dropped that show out of the race to replace "Seinfeld."

"And the more we thought about (`Frasier'), we just felt the show is quality television," Littlefield said. "And I must tell you, it was a really close call, because we believe that the young, fresh, upstart-with-an-attitude `Just Shoot Me' would also do a great job.

"But we're asking them to accomplish a lot also - to go in and really be the anchor to Tuesday at o'clock. And any one of those three shows could have ended up in (the "Seinfeld" time slot)."

And the "Frasier" move was made to impress the advertisers and protect NBC's upfront ad sales.

"We thought that for the upfront we would be strong. And we thought, competitively, it would be a message that we were strong and we would be a tough network to tackle on Thursday nights," Littlefield said.

"NEWSRADIO" NEWS: When "NewsRadio" returns in September, the passing of Phil Hartman won't go unnoticed.

His character, Bill McNeil, will have died of a sudden heart attack and his co-workers will hold a memorial service for him. Then, in the second episode, Jon Lovitz will come aboard as Hartman's replacement.

EARLY SWITCH: NBC has shuffled its lineup some two months before the fall season begins. The network has shifted "Trinity" - the new drama about an extended Irish family from "ER" producer John Wells - from 7 to 8 p.m. on Fridays. That night's edition of "Dateline NBC" moves in the opposite direction, from 8 to 7 p.m.

Littlefield insists the move had nothing to do with Wells' well-publicized complaints about the early time slot. But not much of anyone believes him on this one.

A BAD SIGN: Littlefield also didn't convince many critics that the reason the new Nathan Lane sitcom "Encore! Encore!" isn't being presented here is because Lane is making a movie in Canada and co-star Joan Plowright is making a movie in Italy.

That excuse doesn't wash terribly well with a group of people who have sat through any number of satellite press conferences originating from various parts of the world.

The fact is that NBC won't show critics the pilot - even clips. They're recasting a number of the roles.

And when the network showed "Encore!" clips to advertisers in New York at the fall schedule presentation in May, there were catcalls and derisive hoots from the audience.

Not a good sign. Even for a show that comes to us from the producers of "Frasier."

FINAL SEASON: Not surprisingly, Littlefield won't say so, but NBC has to be disappointed that the ratings of "Mad About You" dropped sharply this past spring - making the $1 million an episode stars Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt will be getting this coming season seem a bit excessive.

"I think in a year when we knew that `Seinfeld' would not be back, we didn't want to say goodbye to `Mad About You,' " Littlefield said. "We felt that it was important to have that kind of consistency.

"I've had a number of meetings with Paul and with Helen, and they feel they can deliver an outstanding season for us. . . . They will have a memorable final season. I'm hopeful that they will deliver. I'm sure they will."

LOOKING TO IMPROVE: "Veronica's Closet" did perfectly fine in the ratings last year, which was probably a function of airing between "Seinfeld" and "ER." The quality, however, was somewhat spotty.

And that's something the network and the producers are hoping to remedy. Littlefield recounted an incident at the advertisers' presentation in May when executive producer Marta Kauffman "jumped up right after the presentation and she said, `We have to do a better job with this show. We've let you down this year,' which I thought was wonderfully honest of her."

Kauffman and her partners have brought in a new show-runner, executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino, whose job it will be to make improvements. Whether she'll succeed, of course, remains to be seen.

NEVER AGAIN: Cynthia Stevenson, who's starring in the upcoming Lifetime sitcom "Oh Baby" as a woman who decides to have a child on her own through artificial insemination, was asked what she had learned about parenting through actual experience.

"I have a 17-month old boy at home myself, so I know I never want to do it again," she said with a laugh. "Twenty-four hours of labor taught me - don't go there again!"

HARD TO HIDE: Marietta DePrima, who's co-starring on the upcoming ABC sitcom "The Hughleys," really is pregnant. As a matter of fact, she's 71/2 months pregnant with her third child. (She's married to actor George Newbern, perhaps best known as Steve Martin's son-in-law in "Father of the Bride" and its sequel.)

So will the pregnancy be written into the series?

"Oh yeah," said DePrima. "You can only carry in the laundry so many times, right?"

GOOD ANSWER: Joanna Gleason, who's co-starring with Stevenson in "Oh Baby," began her career on Broadway. In fact, she won a Tony for her performance in "Into the Woods."

But she laughed when she was asked if she had any plans to return to Broadway.

"I don't think you go there, like you make travel plans. You know what I mean?" she said. "You have to be sort of invited."

FRINGE BENEFITS: So, what does it mean to the cast of "The Hughleys" that one of the show's executive producers is Emmy-winner Chris Rock?

"We got free tickets to `Lethal Weapon 4,' " said "Hughleys" star D.L. Hughley.