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LOSS OF `PROFIT' DEALS A BLOW TO TV

Published: Wednesday, June 19 1996 12:00 a.m. MDT

Perhaps the world simply wasn't ready for Jim Profit.

With his shellacked hair and crocodile smile, he all but slithered onto television screens when the Fox series "Profit" premiered April 8. Coolly charming and delightfully diabolical, he was introduced as the rising hotshot of the Gracen & Gracen conglomerate. A charter member of the by-any-means-necessary school of success, Profit was the kind of corporate cobra who could make Gordon Gekko seems as harmless as a garden snake.As brilliantly played by Adrian Pasdar, he wasn't an anti-hero, but an anti-Christ rustling the shadows and skeletons in everyone else's closet. Of course, he had his own dark secrets - he murdered his father and had an affair with his drug-addled, conniving stepmother. And then there was the matter of his tortured childhood, and the cardboard moving box where Profit still slept naked and curled in a fetal position.

"Profit" was hailed as one of the best shows of the season. Critics scrambled for superlatives to praise the program, predicting wonderfully wicked doings for one of the most daringly original TV characters in recent years.

But four episodes into its run, "Profit" proved a loss. With dismal ratings, the series was yanked off the air. In these highly competitive times, with so much at stake, even kudos from the critics was not a lifesaver for a program drowning in the depths of the Nielsens.

The final four episodes will air during the summer, but the show's cancellation was one of the biggest blows in a TV season full of dead spots. Especially disheartening was how quickly Fox dropped the ax on the promising series, which may have been too smart, too sinister and, ultimately, too tough to categorize for television's taste.

Even a clunker like "My Mother the Car" got an entire season before mercifully sputtering to a halt.

INCREDIBLE REVIEWS - " `Profit,' I think, is one of the most obvious abuses of quick cancellation I've seen in a long time," said Robert Thompson, associate pro-fes-sor of television at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

"It seemed like Fox really flew in the face of anybody who was writing or talking about that show," he said. "The very weeks when it was getting these incredible reviews, they decided to take it off the schedule."

"Profit," which also starred Lisa Blount, Lisa Zane and Keith Szarabajka, aired on Mondays. It staggered from the start, lost among CBS' "Murphy Brown" and "Cybill" and NBC's inexplicably popular women-in-peril TV movies. Then the show ran into the first part of the finale of ABC's "Murder One." And while that critically acclaimed show flailed in the ratings all year, it received big numbers for the conclusion of the show's season-long murder trial.

But the final, fatal blow for "Profit" came April 29, when the series got a measly 3.9 rating compared with the 19.5 scored by Part 2 of the blockbuster NBC mini-series `The Beast." In the final season numbers, "Profit" ranked 138th out of 159 shows.

Given the much-hyped competition, some say the final ratings of "Profit" were not a fair assessment of the series' potential. But Fox executives maintain the program was given a fair chance to find an audience.

"Obviously it was in a sweeps period, and the ratings just weren't there," a Fox executive said. Sources say Fox Entertainment president John Matoian called the cancellation the greatest disappointment of his career.

CHAGRIN - Even John McNamara, who created and executive-produced the series with Stephen Cannell and David Greenblatt, was reluctant to "play the blame game." He told an interviewer, "Fox promoted us and spent money like you wouldn't believe." Yet he could not hide his chagrin over the show's quick cancellation.

"You know we were ecstatic as those rave reviews were rolling in," he said. "Then after we got slaughtered by `Murder One,' Fox said they were going to pull Episode 6. Then after `The Beast' debacle, it was `We're going to pull Episode 5 and hold it to June.'

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