If you think that the just-ended TV season is as simple as one (CBS), two (NBC), three (ABC), and an up-and-coming four (Fox), consider the pearl of wisdom dropped by Rosie Perez’ Gloria, the Jeopardy!-obsessed heroine of White Men Can’t Jump: ”Sometimes when you win, you really lose. Sometimes when you lose, you really win. Sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose.” Nicely put, Gloria — and have you considered a future at the networks? Perhaps you could apply to ABC Entertainment president Robert Iger, who began the | season with a Zen-like decree that it was no longer important to finish No. 1 (Yeah, sure — especially if you’re No. 3). Or maybe you should send a résumé to the NBC Vice President in Charge of Sore Losing, who marked his network’s tumble from the top last month by saying NBC would no longer recognize the traditional 30-week season (Too bad, pal — it recognized you, and you finished second).
No sooner had the 1991-92 Nielsen race come to its official end on April 12 than the real mind games began: Beyond the raw numbers, which brought CBS from worst to first in a single season, who really struck gold and who struck out? It depends on how you look at the small screen, so here’s our way.
* ABC’s New Series Despite a third-place finish, ABC can claim one victory that will matter next season: As many as nine of its new shows could return in the fall. Already renewed are Home Improvement (the season’s only new smash on any network), Step by Step, The Commish, FBI: The Untold Stories, American Detective, and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Although their fates are less sure, the middling-rated Homefront, Civil Wars, and Room for Two could be back as well. The success of ABC’s new shows is more than a consolation prize; since potential hits tend to improve their ratings in their second year, ABC could easily rise to second place next fall.
* NBC’s Two-for-One Sale By borrowing a concept from cable, NBC came up with the most cost-efficient route to success: It aired Back to the Future Part III twice in one week last November and got big ratings both times. In February, double showings of Kindergarten Cop were hits, and this month, NBC will do it again with Bird on a Wire. Watch for the other networks to follow suit.
* CBS’ Monday Lineup First-place networks are built on big nights, and this season, CBS’ Mondays were huge: Evening Shade turned from a stumbler into a success, Murphy Brown became a smash, and Northern Exposure blossomed from a cult favorite into one of TV’s most popular 10 o’clock dramas in years. The lineup’s only wobbly series is the aging Designing Women, so CBS’ Monday shows could anchor the network for seasons to come.
* Sophomore Successes Could the networks finally be learning the virtues of patience? In addition to Evening Shade, several other series made graceful ascents in the Nielsens during their second season: NBC’s Seinfeld, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Blossom, and most spectacularly, Fox’s Beverly Hills, 90210, which rolled out new episodes last summer to become TV’s No. 1 show among teenage viewers.
* CBS’ New Series A talking dog, a flame-barfing puppet, a guppy with a badge — CBS’ roster of relics, runts, and rejects from the animal kingdom was truly cruel and inhuman punishment. Don’t expect Tequila and Bonetti, Fish Police, or the odious Scorch to come back or make any noise at next fall’s Emmys — and you won’t see any statuettes go to the belly-up Hearts Are Wild or the smirky Palace Guard either. If that’s what CBS aired, what did it reject? Well, among the series the network passed on was Norman Lear’s The Powers That Be, now becoming a hit for NBC. In fact, only two of CBS’ new series — Street Stories and the low-rated Brooklyn Bridge — stand a chance of returning next fall. That’s no way for a network to stay in first place.
* Animation 1992 was supposed to be the year that the rest of network TV finally caught up with The Simpsons. Instead, a cable show, Nickelodeon’s Ren & Stimpy Show, won the good reviews, while CBS’ Fish Police and ABC’s Capitol Critters revealed that network cartoons always seem to come out as two- dimensional as, well, cartoons. The most eagerly anticipated effort, Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton’s Family Dog on CBS, was postponed again and will shortly enter its third year of being the Next Big Thing. (When last seen, in an ironically prophetic “coming soon” commercial during the 1991 Grammys, the Dog was heard peeing on the CBS logo.)
* NBC’S Thursday Lineup Gone are the weeks when The Cosby Show slew all that dared to run against it. In fact, gone is The Cosby Show, and with it, what little remained of NBC’s years of Thursday dominance. L.A. Law staggered through a bad year that saw ABC’s PrimeTime Live eat into the 10 p.m. audience, Cosby felt the brawn of Bart, and even Cheers’ ratings began to dwindle. NBC still won the night this season; next fall, it’s anyone’s for the taking.
* Shows That Wouldn’t Leave As they rolled on and on, eating up miles of valuable videotape, their laughs became fewer, their creaks got louder, and their existence seemed ever more pointless. ABC’s decision to stagger onward with the moribund Who’s the Boss? and Growing Pains and NBC’s insistence on milking one last year out of Night Court not only yielded mediocre ratings; they weakened the prime-time schedule by wasting slots in which the networks could have been investing in new series whose best years are ahead.