When it comes to entertainment, Americans like their choices multiple. There’s room for Pretty Woman Julia Roberts and Hungry Man Hannibal Lecter, for the jolting In Living Color and the gentle Northern Exposure, for Mariah Carey’s unplugged voice and Michael Bolton’s electrified hair. Okay. So much for fairness. Somebody has to win and somebody has to lose, right? Thus, our second annual survey of the nation’s tastes in entertainment. We asked 600 Americans what makes them swoon (Mel Gibson), snooze (TV golf), shriek (Rebecca De Mornay), and smile (nobody more than Tim Allen). For more about all of them, read on.
Who is the funniest actress on TV?
1. Candice Bergen
2. Roseanne Arnold
3. Kirstie Alley
4. Katey Sagal
5. Estelle Getty
Motherhood may make Murphy Brown more controversial and even crankier, but a lot of people like her just the way she is — especially women, who give Bergen a substantial victory. But Arnold has plenty of allies; she takes top honors among respondents who make less than $30,000 a year, younger TV viewers, nonwhites, and — surprisingly — men, who give her blue-collar brio a narrow edge over Murphy’s Beltway topicality. And things look good for a sixth-place finisher who hasn’t starred in a series lately but will get her own talk show next fall: Whoopi Goldberg.
Whom would you rather play football for: Burt Reynolds on Evening Shade or Craig T. Nelson on Coach?
Burt Reynolds 55%
Craig T.Nelson 43%
Although Coach beats Evening Shade in the Nielsens, viewers would rather have Reynolds call the plays, especially if the team is composed of women; 61 percent of them would like him to run a league of their own.
On which of these television game shows would you most like to appear?
Wheel Of Fortune 54%
Love Connection 3%
Though Wheel wins overall, Jeopardy! scores a decisive victory among college graduates, who didn’t pay all that tuition just so they could buy a vowel from Vanna. And 30 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds would rather win in the game of love, even if they have to go on Studs to do it.
Which of these is the coolest TV show?
Northern Exposure 21%
Beverly Hills 90210 19%
In Living Color 15%
Saturday Night Live 9%
The Simpsons 7%
David Letterman 7%
Perhaps the windchill factor helped, but the deep-freeze chic of Exposure just edges the sunnier setting of 90210 for cool cachet. Still, opinion was sharply divided on this question, as the top three finishers all had strong followings. Exposure was first among TV viewers over 35 and college-educated viewers. 90210 was the overwhelming favorite of 15- to 24-year-olds, who dropped Exposure to a dismal sixth place. And men chose In Living Color, which was also No. 1 among nonwhite viewers by a wide margin.
Which TV network offers the best campaign coverage?
In last year’s poll, 37 percent of Americans said that in a crisis they turn to CNN before the networks. The election may not be one, but it’s big news, and so is CNN’s commanding victory — it outdraws the three broadcast networks combined.
Would you rather have Tim Taylor of Home Improvement fix a leaky faucet or Murphy Brown baby-sit your kids?
Tim Taylor Do Repairs 47%
Murphy Brown Baby-Sit 43%
It’s close, but voters apparently prefer Tool Time to Drool Time (or perhaps they just prefer proven incompetence to complete inexperience). Among women, however, new mom Murphy wins by a baby’s eyelash.
Which character on Beverly Hills 90210 would you most want as a best friend?
1. Dylan (Luke Perry)
2. Brenda (Shannen Doherty)
3. Brandon (Jason Priestley)
4. Kelly (Jennie Garth)
5. Steve (Ian Ziering)/ Andrea (Gabrielle Carteris)
7. Donna (Toni Spelling)/ David (Brian Austin Green)
Pouting pays: Beverly Hills 90210 viewers would rather warm up to dour Dylan and brooding Brenda than eternally optimistic Brandon — though all three have a substantial edge over their West Beverly High pals. There’s a marked gender gap here: Men are eager to trade sideburn-grooming tips with Dylan, while women would be happier hanging out with Brenda. But Jason Priestley shouldn’t feel too sad — Brandon finishes a strong No. 1 among viewers who have attended college — and a year from now, that’s where the whole 90210 gang will be heading.
Which of these television shows do you have the fondest memories of?
1. The Beverly Hillbillies 30%
2. Gilligan’s Island 24%
3. The Brady Bunch 15%
4. Mchale’s Navy 8%
6. Green Acres 5%
7. Petticoat Junction 4%
”Y’all come back now, hear?” say aficionados of the Jed Clampett clan; viewers over 45 pick The Beverly Hillbillies by a nearly 4-to-1 margin over Gilligan and his fellow castaways. In what could be a grim sign of the future of American culture, Gilligan’s Island is No. 1 among younger rerun watchers. And don’t discount that Brady boom; the bunch places a strong second among women.
Which of these sequels to television shows would you like to see in 10 years?
Cosbys All Grown Up 45%
Son Of Murphy Brown 27%
Farewell episodes breed sentimentality, which may be why 60 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds (funny, that’s about the age range of the Huxtable kids) say they’d like to revisit the Cosby clan when the youngsters come of age. A thirtysomething sequel drew support from viewers in the 35-to-44 age group. But among college graduates, Son of Murphy Brown is first; could they be the ”cultural elite” Dan Quayle keeps bashing?
Which of these TV-movie actresses is your favorite?
Lindsay Wagner 22%
Jaclyn Smith 17%
Valerie Bertinelli 14%
Susan Lucci 11%
Meredith Baxter 10%
Elizabeth Montgomery 9%
Victoria Principal 7%
You don’t have to be bionic to love her: Wagner wins across the board, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the producers of ABC’s upcoming miniseries Scruples Two are already angling her to sign the dotted line.
Which is funnier: Saturday Night Live or In Living Color?
In Living Color 38%
Saturday Night Live 34%
After 17 years, it seems that SNL still isn’t ready for prime time: The Sunday-evening antics of In Living Color get the nod, thanks to its support among our nonwhite respondents, who favor the show by a 73 percent-to-14 percent landslide.
Who is the funniest actor on television?
1. Tim Allen
2. Bill Cosby
3. Jerry Seinfeld
4. Damon Wayans
5. John Goodman
In pop culture, changings of the guard can happen in the blink of an eye — or, in this case, the flick of a channel. Witness Tim Allen’s meteoric one-year rise from The Guy Nobody Knows to television’s most laughed-at (but we mean it in a good way) leading man. With his victory, Allen dethrones last year’s favorite-sitcom poll winner, Bill Cosby, and finishes well ahead of Jerry Seinfeld, whose series will air opposite Home Improvement next fall. And Damon Wayans’ fourth-place finish confirms his status as In Living Color‘s breakout star; among nonwhites, he is a very strong No. 1.
What is your favorite television comedy series?
1. Home Improvement
2. Murphy Brown
4. In Living Color
After its first season, ABC’s Home Improvement vaults to the top of the sitcom pack, drawing its strongest support from 35- to 44-year-olds and people making more than $50,000 a year. Murphy Brown rises from seventh place on last year’s list to second, leapfrogging Cheers, though there’s a big gender split-women overwhelmingly prefer Murphy, while men choose Cheers. In Living Color is the favorite among nonwhites, and Seinfeld scores well with the 25-to-34 crowd. The big loser is last year’s big winner, The Cosby Show (now defunct), which drops to No. 8, following Married…With Children and Roseanne.
Which is harder to sit through: the Academy Awards or the Super Bowl?
Academy Awards 54%
Super Bowl 39%
Talk about a gender gap: A majority of women say that it’s tougher to make it through the Stupor Bowl, but nearly three-quarters of men can’t stay awake past the Irving G. Thalberg award. Maybe if they let John Madden give out the Oscars…
Who is your favorite late-night talk-show host?
1. Arsenio Hall
2. David Letterman
3. Jay Leno
4. Dennis Miller
5. Bob Costas
He might not be kicking Jay Leno’s you-know-what in the ratings, but Hall — and Letterman — beat the new Tonight Show host in our poll. Hall commands the loyalty of 59 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds and 68 percent of nonwhites, though Letterman makes it close among men, and Leno is strong with 45- to 60- year-olds. While it could be curtains for Miller, he has upscale demographics: His numbers rise with people’s income. As for Costas, well, later, dude.
Who is your favorite morning TV anchor?
Joan Lunden 28%
Katie Couric 14%
Bryant Gumbel 13%
Charles Gibson 7%
Harry Smith 7%
After a year in which her personal life made more headlines than her work on Good Morning America, Lunden reaffirms her personal popularity with a 2-to-1 victory over the runner-up, Today‘s Couric (who makes a strong run at first place among college graduates and older viewers). Women give Lunden the most support, but among men, the Today team of Couric and Gumbel is tied with the GMA duo of Lunden and Gibson. And although CBS This Morning‘s Zahn and Smith lag in popularity, Zahn finishes a strong second among younger viewers.
Do you think Alex Trebek knows all the answers on Jeopardy!?
He can fool some of the people some of the time, but most people think Trebek’s polished delivery (”Oh, I’m so sorry — the answer we were looking for was ‘spider monkey”’) is aided more by cue cards than by an encyclopedic memory. And many Jeopardy! viewers aren’t too happy about it: 48 percent of those we polled say that Trebek is downright smug. (Now there’s an answer he really won’t like.)
What is your favorite TV drama series?
1. L.A. Law
2. Beverly Hills 90210
3. Knots Landing
4. Law & Order
The attorneys of McKenzie, Brackman emerge victorious for the second year in a row, though their support has dwindled. Three of the top five shows come out of nowhere — well, Alaska, California, and New York, actually. Exposure, the top choice among the 35-to-44 set, places second, followed by 90210, the No. 1 program for the 15-to-24 gang, while Law & Order finishes fifth, drawing strength from nonwhites. Falling from second to fourth is the nighttime soap Knots Landing, while the daytime soap Days of Our Lives comes in 11th, beating such prime-time fare as I’ll Fly Away and Civil Wars.
What’s the most boring sport to watch on TV?
Auto Racing 10%
No contest here: Televised golf remains America’s No. 1 sleep aid, with some of the loudest yawns from women and younger viewers. Only college grads pick a different sport — they’d be happy never to see a strike, spare, or gutter ball again.
Would you want Johnny Carson to come back as host of The Tonight Show?
Johnny, we already miss ye, say our respondents, and for Jay Leno, the news is even worse than it looks. Carson’s strongest supporters are young viewers; 65 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds want to see him swing that invisible golf club one more time.
What is your favorite prime-time newsmagazine program?
60 Minutes 28%
48 Hours 23%
Street Stories 10%
Primetime Live 5%
Dateline NBC 3%
The clock may be ticking for CBS’ 60 Minutes; it’s still on top, but increasingly, TV viewers have 20/20 vision. The Friday-night ABC news hour wins among women and baby boomers. But the brightest future may belong to two of CBS’ grittier news shows: Among 15- to 24-year-old viewers, 48 Hours and Street Stories come in first and second.
17% say they have bought at least one item from the Home Shopping Network.
60% think sportscasters talk too much during games.
39% have never laughed out loud at 60 Minutes‘ Andy Rooney.
9% think they’ve spotted someone from Unsolved Mysteries or America’s Most Wanted.
71% think the folks on America’s Funniest People are not America’s funniest people.
47% think Jay Leno won’t last five years as host of The Tonight Show.