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Picks and Pans Main: Tube

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OVERWHELMED BY THE ENORMOUS load of new shows this fall? Join the club. There has never been a season with so many rookie series—42 in all, compared with 28 last year. If you’ve been meaning to check out any of them, better do it now. The shadow of cancellation is already hanging over several fledgling series.

Prime-time analysts say the two series most likely to fail first are If Not for You, the Elizabeth McGovern comedy on CBS, and The Home Court, Pamela Reed’s NBC sitcom. If Not for You, which had a drop-off of 28 percent in viewership from its lead-in Murphy Brown, is in critical condition because CBS already has its possible replacement—High Society, a sitcom with Jean Smart—in production.

In fact you can expect a full-scale purge at CBS before this month is over. With its strategy to attract a younger audience a dismal failure and its schedule riddled with low-rated new entries, the network will soon be in full cancellation mode. Among those expected to receive bad news: John Grisham’s The Client, Bless This House, Courthouse, The Bonnie Hunt Show and Dweebs. The only thing saving CBS’s sensational ratings flop Central Park West from immediate dismissal is the fact that the network has nothing to put in its place.

Around the dial there could be a number of other early exits. ABC’s back-to-back dramas Charlie Grace and The Monroes will probably face the firing squad together after the World Series ends. On Fox, David Alan Grier’s sitcom The Preston Episodes is in danger. At NBC, The Pursuit of Happiness, a comedy from the makers of Frasier, is under pressure to improve or face extinction.

Some poorly performing shows may limp into November simply because of the fall clutter. (There is safety in numbers.) As ABC’s entertainment chief Ted Harbert observes, “The fact that there are so many more shows on now, and the fact that everybody seems to be going after pretty much the same audience [that free-spending 18-to 49-year-old demographic], means the networks must be more patient than ever.”

Don’t expect them, however, to wait for too long.