But there is a bright light breaking through the ratings gloom: One of NBC's new dramas is proving to be unexpectedly popular. ''Mysterious Ways'' (Mondays, 8 p.m.), offers spiritually themed stories about an archaeologist (Adrian Pasdar) and a psychologist (Rae Dawn Chong) investigating miracles. Its July 24 debut was the second highest rated NBC show of the week, finishing in ninth place overall behind ''Law & Order.'' While some critics have dubbed ''Mysterious Ways'' a cross between ''Touched by an Angel'' and ''The X-Files,'' the show's star says the scripts are unique. ''It's not really about miracles or Jesus,'' says Pasdar, who was in ''Profit,'' the short lived but critically hailed 1996 Fox drama. ''It's about believing in yourself, and having courage and confidence in your beliefs.''
But there's a problem for NBC. Even though they have a sleeper hit on their hands, they may not add the show to their fall lineup due to some network crossover complications. When the Peacock passed on the chance to shoot a ''Ways'' pilot last year, they allowed PAX TV, a family oriented cable network, to buy the property. But since NBC owns 30 percent of PAX, the networks struck a deal for six episodes of ''Mysterious Ways'' to air first on NBC. Execs were hoping that a brief run would help the show build an audience.
But now that ''Mysterious Ways'' has become a hit, NBC isn't so eager to let PAX have it. ''They'll probably make a decision at the end of the show's run [tentatively scheduled for Aug. 21] as to whether it will come back as a midseason replacement [on NBC], but there's a lot of buzz around the show right now,'' says one Peacock source. ''It could really go either way.''
Though PAX president Jeff Sagansky has said he's happy to let NBC debut new episodes while PAX runs repeats, Mediaweek TV analyst Marc Berman wonders if that move could make advertisers who buy PAX airtime skittish and botch future collaborations between the networks. ''It sends out the message that NBC isn't taking PAX very seriously,'' he says. ''They're supposed to be working together, not stealing one another's shows.''
But given NBC's less than stellar Monday lineup, says Berman, the network would be wise not to let go of ''Ways.'' ''This will certainly do better than what's currently scheduled for that time slot, which is 'Daddio,''' he says. If ''Ways'' goes by the wayside, Berman predicts that a faceoff between two similar sitcoms -- ''Daddio'' and CBS' more popular ''King of Queens'' -- will be a ''disaster'' for the NBC show. Maybe ''Daddio'' star Michael Chiklis should start praying for a miracle. Or better scripts.