Julia Gets Roundly Panned by Critics

04/15/2003 at 11:55 AM EDT

Critics across the country are rolling up -- not out -- the welcome mat for the retooled version of Julia Louis-Dreyfus's distressed NBC sitcom of last season, "Watching Ellie."

The show gets its second chance when it debuts Tuesday night.

"Hopelessly unfunny," wails the Chicago Sun-Times, calling the show starring the "Seinfeld" alum as a high-strung but underemployed Los Angeles jazz singer a "vanity project" from Louis-Dreyfus "and her hopelessly unfunny (producer) husband, Brad Hall."

USA Today calls this new version "even less amusing than it was the first time around," while the Los Angeles Times, going easy on the show, explains, "there's really no point in beating a dead horse."

Times critics Scott Sandell goes on to state that he misses last's season's gimmick of running the show in real time, with a clock at the bottom of the TV to track how the minutes were ticking away. And he misses last season's absence of a laugh track -- the new version has one.

"Bright Star, Dim Script," read the headline on Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales's review of "Ellie," while The New York Times' Anita Gates wrote, "things aren't looking good for 'Watching Ellie.'"

The first incarnation of "Ellie" premiered February 2002 and was yanked six weeks later amid talk of a "Seinfeld" curse, given that follow-up sitcoms starring her former costars Michael Richards and Jason Alexander had died quick deaths.

But despite slowly sinking ratings after some mixed-to-positive reviews, "Ellie" wasn't killed off. Instead, it was sent back to the drawing board by NBC entertainment president Jeff Zucker, who vowed the show would return.

And so it will on Tuesday, following a network special called "Great Woman of TV Comedy," featuring such guaranteed ratings grabbers as the late Lucille Ball. Then again, that special plays opposite FOX's "American Idol," and "Ellie" will be up against FOX's critically lauded "24."

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