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Picks and Pans Main: Tube

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The most noteworthy TV trend of the new year is the marked upgrading of syndicated programming. Traditionally, cut-rate syndicated offerings have been the F Troop of TV entertainment: a ludicrously ragtag bunch of misfits. Sold to independent UHF stations desperate for product to fill their schedules, syndicated shows during the ’80s tended to be feeble sitcoms—laugh-a-leap-year comedies such as Out of this World, Double Trouble, My Secret Identity, She’s the Sheriff and Small Wonder. By syndicated standards, the anemic Charles In Charge was positively Shavian. Lately the dominant syndicated genre has become the hour-long action drama, primarily because this type of show is easy to move on the lucrative overseas market. (Comedy doesn’t ever travel well, but syndicated sitcoms don’t even own luggage.) Suddenly this month a number of big-budget syndicated shows are hitting the airwaves: Deep Space Nine, Time Trax and remakes of The Untouchables and Kung Fu. You can thank Star Trek: The Next Generation for broadening your viewing options. It pioneered the concept that well-produced new programming can exist and thrive in the syndication ghetto.