The official word from NBC remains that "NewsRadio" will return to the network's schedule in the fall, despite the loss of Phil Hartman. "There's been no determination how it will be handled, but it will be handled," said an NBC spokeswoman.
Hartman, of course, was apparently shot to death by his wife last month, shortly before she took her own life.That "NewsRadio" was renewed by NBC was more than a bit of a surprise. The show, which had been bounced about the network's schedule like a superball, and the ratings were not particularly healthy. But NBC made a deal with the show's production company, Brillstein-Grey, that gave the network a financial interest in "NewsRadio."
In other words, when the show goes into syndication, NBC stands to make money off it. Of course, the show first has to produce enough episodes to make it to syndication - and it needs at least another season on the air to do that.
Conventional wisdom is that a series needs to have 100 episodes or so to successfully segue into syndication. "NewsRadio" premiered in March 1995 with half a dozen episodes, and has three full seasons under its belt - that's 72 episodes. Another season would take that to 94, which would probably be enough.
Thus, NBC as well as the show's producers have a vested interest in keeping "NewsRadio" on the air despite Hartman's death.
Replacing Hartman, however, will be difficult. He wasn't the heart of the show and he didn't carry most of the episodes, but a great deal of the humor came from his character, pompous newsman Bill McNeal.
It will be difficult for the show's producers to cast anyone in a similar role - Hartman's character was just too distinct and powerful. The best hope would be to bring in a distinct but decidedly different character.
That sounds like a plan, but it would be difficult to accomplish.
A second option would be to step up the involvement of the other characters. That, too, could work. But it also might backfire.
A worst-case scenario would be upping the airtime of the incredibly annoying Andy Dick, who plays the incredibly annoying Matthew on the show.
It will be a tricky thing. Whether this is a ship worth saving remains to be seen.
TITANIC EPISODE: Speaking of ships, NBC has also made no decision on whether it will rerun May's season finale of "NewsRadio," a surreal episode in which the radio station became the Titanic.
Hartman's character - like most of the rest of the cast - died in that episode.
It was wildly funny, but NBC may be too squeamish to repeat it. And, even by September, it may not be time to put it back on the air.
REPLACING HARTMAN: "NewsRadio" isn't the only NBC sitcom that has to deal with the recent death of Phil Hartman. The actor did a pivotal guest shot on last month's season-ending cliffhanger of "3rd Rock from the Sun," playing an irate man who kidnaps Harry (French Stewart).
The producers of "3rd Rock" have decided to replace Hartman altogether. They'll reshoot the two scenes in which he appeared with another, yet-to-be cast actor - and those replacement scenes will air when the episode is repeated in early September. That new actor will continue in the season-opener.
UNCANCELED: CBS has changed its mind on "The Magnificent Seven." The show did not make the network's fall schedule and was effectively canceled, but the powers that be at CBS have backtracked and ordered 13 episodes as a midseason replacement series.
Which, of course, is what "Seven" was this past season as well.
Apparently, at least part of what saved the show was a big write-in and e-mail campaign from viewers. But there's no such luck for "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," which CBS still has no plans to revive despite the protests of a large group of vociferous fans.
As a matter of fact, despite the CBS announcement of a two-hour "Dr. Quinn" movie as a done deal, star Jane Seymour insists nothing is set in stone yet.
But don't be surprised if she gets over her current snit over the show's cancellation. (She is, after all, currently in production on an unrelated CBS TV movie.) Expect to see that "Dr. Quinn" teleflick in the fall - and don't be surprised if it's the first of several such proj-ects.
ALSO FROM CBS: In addition to "The Magnificent Seven," CBS has announced a couple of other midseason replacement shows - both featuring familiar stars.
Ted Danson, who had considerable success on "Cheers" and no sucess on "Ink," will return in yet another half-hour sitcom. In "Becker," he'll play "an opinionated doctor who thinks the world is going to hell - and complaining all the way. But underneath his gruff exterior is a brilliant doctor with a heart of gold."
William Devane, who spent a decade on "Knots Landing," will star in the hourlong drama "Turks." He'll play a veteran Chicago police sergeant with two sons who followed him onto the force - and a third who has turned to the wrong side of the law.
BAD "VIBE": To no one's surprise, Columbia TriStar has canceled its low-rated, late-night talk show "Vibe." (It will continue on the air with a mixture of old and new episodes through the beginning of September.)
The show has been troubled since it debuted this past August. Original host Chris Spencer was himself canceled in October, and the ratings didn't improve when Sinbad took over.
The only possible winner here is "The Magic Hour," which - at the moment - has no competition in late-night syndication. No, it just has to deal with pesky rivals like "The Tonight Show," the "Late Show" and "Late Night."
(By the way, "The Magic Hour" premiered to mediocre national ratings that steadily declined throughout its first week. Not to mention a decided lack of enthusiasm among the nation's TV critics.)