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Published: Monday, 3/5/2001

Quick KO for `Fighting Fitzgeralds'?

NBC's debut tomorrow night of The Fighting Fitzgeralds as the lead-in to a new episode of Frasier comes as a jolt to critics who try to keep track of such things. At the peacock network's midseason previews in January in Los Angeles, the show was never mentioned by NBC's programmers.

After watching a late-arriving review copy of the first episode, I know why they kept mum.

Based on the barely seen 1997 movie The Brothers McMullen, The Fighting Fitzgeralds fades badly in the first round. Brian Dennehy plays a widowed, retired Long Island fireman with three grown sons, all of them losers.

Dennehy is supposed to come off crusty but benign, but his character is an unrepentant tyrant who yells at his Hispanic neighbors and calls his sons “morons.”

The Fitzgeralds are, of course, Irish-Catholic, so the writers throw in more Irish cliches than a box of Lucky Charms. When one of the siblings quits his job and moves home, Dad asks his two other sons to cheer him up. They suggest getting him smashed.

“He's sad. It's happy hour. We're Irish. Do the math,” says a brother.

And so it goes, like a third-rate All in the Family overrun by Meatheads. And with Brian Dennehy wasting his Tony-winning talents playing Archie Clunker.

  • SWEEPS RESULTS: CBS had its best February sweeps run in years, thanks to the Kucha and Ogakor tribes, but NBC was No. 1 in prime demographics for the four-week ratings period (which local stations use to set ad rates).

    In phone conferences with TV critics, the top brass from NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox trumpeted their successes.

    Before crunching numbers, NBC's West Coast chief, Scott Sassa, also talked about Friends star Matthew Perry's return to rehab last week. Perry already was scheduled to be off to complete the movie Servicing Sara, said Sassa, so his absence from the Friends set won't be a problem for now.

    Better news for NBC was its still-strong showing on Thursday nights against CBS's Survivor and C.S.I. The network was down only 0.1 of a ratings point in key demos against its Thursdays a year ago.

    Overall, in the 18-49 viewer demo, NBC pulled an average 5.4 rating in February, followed by Fox with a 5.2 (thanks to Temptation Island). CBS and ABC tied in third place with a 4.4 rating. CBS drew the most TV households overall.

    Coming up April 16 on NBC is the new British import game The Weakest Link. ABC's summer reality show is The Runner, created by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

    CBS president Les Moonves confirmed that Survivor 3 will air in the fall, followed by Survivor 4 in the spring of '02. Big Brother 2 and a new reality series, The Ultimate Race, will air this summer.

    Moonves also expressed his disappointment at the tepid performance of Bette. Even the recasting of Bette Midler's husband won't help. Said Moonves, “Nobody's knocking down the door to watch a sitcom co-starring Robert Hays.”

  • SMOKIN'! Robert Knepper's career is really heating up, in more ways than one. He has starring roles in NBC's Women of Camelot miniseries (catch the last of his scenes as RFK at 9 tonight) and Dick Wolf's new drama Law & Order: Criminal Intent. The other day as the Maumee native drove through Beverly Hills to a movie audition, he had to pull out of the way of fire trucks.

    “Wow! I can see black smoke billowing out of the Four Seasons Hotel,” Knepper said on his cell phone as he talked to The Blade. “There goes cocktail hour!”

    Elaine Liner is The Blade's media editor. E-mail her at eliner@theblade.com. or call 1-419-724-6126.

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