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ON THE AIR

The latest news from the TV beat

IN THIS CORNER It’s put-up-or-shut-up time for ABC’s The Practice, producer David E. Kelley’s critically acclaimed but ratings-deprived legal drama, which just got transferred from its deadly Saturday time slot to Mondays at 10 p.m.

The good news is that The Practice will certainly benefit from the move out of its old location, where it averaged only 8.5 million viewers (thanks in part to weak lead-ins such as the now-defunct C-16 and Total Security). The bad news is that the series now faces off against another struggling critical success, CBS’ Brooklyn South, which was created and executive-produced by Kelley’s mentor Steven Bochco.

CBS had been hoping that when ABC’s Monday Night Football finished for the season, Brooklyn South would suddenly find a male audience. Now The Practice threatens to take that opportunity away. In their first matchup, The Practice easily beat Brooklyn South, although both lost handily to NBC’s Dateline. Of course, Brooklyn South was in reruns, and it will return with new episodes in the four weeks leading up to the Winter Olympics.

But even if The Practice thrives on Mondays, it’s a temporary fix at best. Unless ABC plans to sack Monday Night Football (highly unlikely, no matter what the NFL’s asking price), the net will have to risk frustrating viewers by moving the legal drama to yet another spot next fall. Sound familiar, 3rd Rock fans?

SEIN OF THE TIMES In the wake of Jerry Seinfeld’s decision to call it quits, TV execs are developing an abandonment complex. That’s why NBC is trying to lock up its other assets – the net just signed Tonight Show host Jay Leno to a contract through 2003 at a reported price tag of $75 million. The Peacock is also hoping that Columbia TriStar Television can persuade Mad About You stars Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser to belly up for one more year. Meanwhile Drew Carey Show producer Warner Bros. Television, hoping to get more seasons out of its ABC hit, buttered up Carey by giving him the keys to a new Porsche. Now, that’s called being in the driver’s seat.