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There are about two dozen sitcoms on the air now, and another new one, The Duck Factory, arrives this week. Most aren't rating well and none's a solid hit—for good reason. Too many rely on lazy formulas: jiggle (We've Got It Made, Three's Company), fads (Shaping Up), smartass kids (Diff'rent Strokes, Facts of Life), and recycling (Mama's Family, AfterMASH). Only a half-dozen or so are worth the half-hour: Cheers tops the list; Kate & Allie has real potential; Night Court has its moments; and Buffalo Bill tries hard to be different.
But the good ones are dying young. Night Court, starring the likable and funny flim-flam man Harry Anderson, and Buffalo Bill, starring the nicely nasty Dabney Coleman, already have departed. NBC is, however, holding them on the sidelines for next season. Who knows, they could come back. Jennifer Slept Here is returning this Saturday after showing up in the bottom 10 of the season ratings in its last outing. (It's an inoffensive little show starring Ann Jillian as the ghost of a glamorous movie star; with Jillian there're plenty of chances for jiggle, but the producers wisely pass most of them by.) NBC is one network that gives a good show every chance—that's what Cheers needed to survive and prosper.
This is, unfortunately, also the last week for two CBS shows: Domestic Life, a superb send-up of sitcoms starring Martin Mull as a TV commentator, and Suzanne Pleshette as Maggie Briggs, a show set in a newsroom à la Mary Tyler Moore. The reason they're being yanked is simple enough: In one week last month, Maggie Briggs came in 51st in the ratings and Domestic Life, which had two chances this season, came in 54th out of 72. Nobody watched them, so nobody had a chance to like them. Too bad, for they were worth saving. It's really a shame considering what's replacing them on Sunday nights: CBS is bringing back the insipid AfterMASH and The Four Seasons.
But now cable is getting into the sitcom act. Showtime is working on a very different show for the summer, Brothers—two macho, one gay. The pilot is written by David Lloyd (who wrote the first Cheers plus some scripts for Taxi and Mary Tyler Moore). Unlike NBC's Love, Sidney, Showtime plans to let Brothers come out of the closet. Let's hope it's funny too.