March 18, 2002 11:00 AM

The next two weeks could prove crucial to the fate of the highly scrutinized NBC sitcom “Watching Ellie,” which has been in a continual ratings slide since its premiere last month. New York’s Daily News reports that should the number of viewers tuning into the Julia Louis-Dreyfus show fall too far below the current level, the series could face the ax and thus add further fuel to the legend of the so-called “Seinfeld” curse. “If it settles in where it is now, it’s a home run,” NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker told the Daily News. “We feel very positive. It’s been a solid performer. Obviously, it’s too early to make any announcements.” Since its Feb. 26 debut, “Watching Ellie,” which features Louis-Dreyfus, 41, as a put-upon lounge singer, has suffered a 33 percent ratings decline. Furthermore, says the paper, the figures are no better with NBC’s target audience of 18- to 49-year-olds. The show’s impressive debut audience of nearly 17 million people has been attributed to viewer curiosity and heavy promotion during NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics. Last week the show averaged 11 million viewers. As far as the 18- to 49-year-olds are concerned, “Ellie” started with 8.97 million, but last week had only 6.04 million. Though the drop-off is significant, the News notes, the numbers are high enough to make the show No. 1 among the young viewers advertisers covet. Said Zucker: “There are people out there who would like to see this fail, and make a big deal about the drop-off. This is exactly what we expected.”

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