The show was a disaster from its debut. The Oct. 25 premiere earned a mere 5.6 household rating (about 12.9 million viewers), compared to the 6.7 that ''Melrose Place'' (the prior owner of the time slot) had gotten the previous year -- not good, considering that ''Time'' was brought in to replace ''Melrose'' because that series was considered in decline. Things didn't improve. In fact, ''Time'' has averaged a 4.1 household rating this season, far lower than ''Melrose'''s 6.4 average during the same period last year.
You can blame the low numbers on the lifeless plots. ''It's eye candy,'' says John Spiropoulos, a manager at Western International Media. ''There's nothing terribly original about it, no real new concept. The producers were hoping Hewitt's popularity was going to bring people in, and they haven't done much more with the show.'' That's too much pressure to put Love under. ''Stars don't make shows, shows make stars,'' says Mike Greco, manager of broadcast research at BBDO, citing the post-hit failures of TV favorites Tony Danza (''The Tony Danza Show''), Ted Danson (''Ink''), and Hewitt's perky predecessor Mary Tyler Moore, whose last five series have tanked. ''People will initially sample the show because they love Jennifer Love Hewitt, but whether the audience returns depends on the entire program.''
So what's a woman to do? If the series doesn't get thrown a ''Life''-line next season, Hewitt can't return to ''Party of Five,'' because this will be its final year, too. (Her spokesperson says it's too soon to say whether she'll return for a ''Party'' finale.) Some think Hewitt should stick to movies for a while (she's filming the mother/daughter con-artist flick ''Breakers'' with Sigourney Weaver this spring), because taking on another regular series immediately might force her further into a plucky pigeonhole. ''She's got to rest a little bit,'' says Mediaweek.com analyst Marc Berman. ''Most actors that play a role for that long, it's hard for them to lose it. God, look at those Brady kids. Marcia will be in an old-age home in 30 years and she'll be Marcia Brady.''
Others disagree. They argue that because so few people actually saw ''Time,'' it shouldn't affect Hewitt's future choices, be it movies or another series. ''If it had been on NBC's [high-profile] Thursday nights and was horrible, that would be a black mark on her career,'' says Spiropoulos. ''But I don't think many people even know she has a show. It's only a black mark if people remember and hate a show.'' Plus, one cancellation does not a has-been make. ''The show didn't work, that doesn't mean she doesn't work,'' says Joan Hyler, manager of such stars as Alyssa Milano and ''Will & Grace'''s Eric McCormack. Hyler thinks Hewitt is here to stay: ''The business has shaken out a lot of these 18- to 22-year-olds, and she's one of them who's gonna endure, in any form.''