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Mr. TV’s Choice

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No one ever said Watching TV was easy. Well, maybe they did. But even with the recording ease of the DVR, I am one of those old-timers that likes to watch his shows when they’re actually on. And that, in this age of media fragmentation, can be nearly impossible
Case in point: I have a big viewing decision to make this Sunday with back-to-back episodes of ABC’s Brothers & Sisters (with one of the characters killed off and brother Tommy potentially heading to the slammer) or the season-premiere of NBC guilty pleasure Celebrity Apprentice, which will air for two hours each week. Which do I choose? Gidget all grown up, Sally Field, or the mogul who perfected the parfait-like comb-over, Donald Trump? Decisions, decisions …

Truth be known, I have not been all that thrilled with Brothers & Sisters this season. But the Feb. 15 episode was like its old great self with Nora meeting Ryan, Holly getting increasingly suspicious about Tommy’s dirty business deal, Kitty admitting some trouble in marriage land and Rebecca seeking a relationship with her real father, David. Since I have watched religiously for three seasons, how can I give up now?

You also know by now that I can’t stand Trump, nor do I think his children Ivanka and Donald Jr. have the right to critique others. What have they done, after all, other than ride their gazillionaire father’s gold-plated coattails? But there is just something about D-level celebrities kissing up to the Donald that is oddly appealing.

The roster of suck-ups this time around are: country crooner Clint Black, loudmouth comic Andrew Dice Clay, poker player Annie Duke, MTV’s Tom Green, professional golfer Natalie Gulbis, Olympian Scott Hamilton, motorcycle mogul Jesse James, Deal or Do Deal model Claudia Jordan, Khloe Kardashian (I guess sister Kim was not available), singer/songwriter Brian McKnight, reality diva Brande Roderick, former National Basketball Association alien Dennis Rodman, National Football League star Herschel Walker, singer Tionne Watkins and—gulp—Joan and Melissa Rivers.

Joan Rivers, the “Diceman” and Dennis Rodman in the same room will be hard to resist. But because I am a loyal Brothers & Sisters viewer, it looks like Joan and Melissa will be relegated to the DVR. But this is no easy decision. Nor are a lot of other ongoing TV battles.

CBS’ CSI vs. Grey’s Anatomy on ABC Thursday is the biggest faceoff, of course. And CBS’ The Mentalist opposite ABC’s returning Dancing With the Stars should be interesting because bona fide freshman The Mentalist continues to pick up steam. This reminds me of other fierce TV battles over the years. On Sunday at 8 p.m. in the fall of 1979, for example, CBS’ Archie Bunker’s Place faced Mork and Mindy, the highest-rated new comedy from one year earlier? Guess what? Archie won.

NBC’s Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law, which both aired in the Thursday 10 p.m. hour, were two of the most awarded dramas to ever air. Hill Street ran for six seasons (1981-87) and L.A. Law for eight (1986-94). But little old Knots Landing on CBS, which competed against them both at 10 p.m., managed to outlast them at 14 seasons. I always caught the NBC hours in repeats.

The fall of 1990: A young network called Fox decides to begin programming Thursday with animated The Simpsons opposite NBC’s The Cosby Show, the reigning champ at 8 p.m.
Cosby fell to fifth from first for the season overall, dipping by 26 percent in households and ultimately signing off in 1992. The Simpsons remained in the time period until the summer of 1994 and has been airing on Sunday ever since. In the fall of 1994, NBC’s pending juggernaut, ER, faced another new medical drama, Chicago Hope on CBS. Although ER quickly rose to the top of the rating charts, CBS saved Chicago Hope by admitting defeat one month later and moving it up one hour (and ultimately to Monday three months later).

Other great battles: ABC’s Happy Days vs. CBS’ Good Times from ’74-’76 (“The Fonz” bested J.J.). NBC’s Miami Vice vs. CBS’ Dallas from ’86-’88 (Crockett and Tubbs weren’t cool enough to stop J.R.). And CBS’ Survivor vs. NBC’s Friends from ’01-’04 (they ran neck and neck). The moral of the story: make sure you have a good DVR. Sadly, you simply cannot watch everything live.   

Do you agree or disagree with Mr. TV? Please e-mail mberman@mediaweek.com and let him know if you would like your response published in an upcoming issue.