AT THANKSGIVING, the networks had little to be thankful for. Most of their 35 new series qualify as ratings turkeys.
The Big Three attracted only about 63 percent of the available audience in a sweeps month when event programming is carried.
With midseason approaching, let's look at each network.
NBC: The top-rated network looked ready to lengthen its lead with nine new series, many of them promising. However, none has caught on big with audiences. NBC is falling back to the level of CBS and ABC and is only holding on to its slim lead because of the success of its aging shows like "Cheers," "The Cosby Show," "The Golden Girls" and "Matlock."
Before the season, Brandon Tartikoff was promoted and his his chief aide, Warren Littlefield, took his job as entertainment president. Tartikoff felt comfortable with the move because he thought "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" and "The Fanelli Boys" might be big hits.
Will Smith's charisma hasn't made "Prince" the 30 share hit that Tartikoff predicted but it may catch on in the summer.
"The Fanelli Boys," which reinforces Italian stereotypes, is deservedly NBC's biggest flop.
NBC's biggest problem remains Sunday night, when it finishes fourth in the ratings. "Hull High" was a 7 p.m. disaster. "Lifestories" -- the network's required Sunday information program -- was dying a slow death, and now is living monthly only because it is one of Tartikoff's favorite shows.
NBC is hoping Jane Pauley will come to the rescue on Sunday nights when it moves her popular summer series, "Real Life," there in January.
The one new drama that is doing decently is "Law and Order," but its success comes at the expense of the show it replaced on Tuesday -- "Midnight Caller." "Caller" isn't doing as well on Friday nights, another NBC trouble spot.
CBS: Jeff Sagansky, another former Tartikoff aide obviously learned his programming strategies well. After exciting its affiliates by moving within a ratings point of NBC, CBS angered them by unwisely announcing it would cut the amount of money it gives the affiliates to carry its programs.
That may lead to many pre-emptions, which would destroy any momentum created by Sagansky.
The emergence of "Murphy Brown" as a Top 10 hit in its third season and the early success of Sharon Gless' new Monday series, "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill," have been a big help.
Although they are struggling creatively and in the ratings, "WIOU" and "Evening Shade" may also be the quality signature shows that Sagansky said he was looking for in his first season as programmer.
Except for the disastrous move of "Uncle Buck" to Friday, Sagansky's programming strategies have been much more successful than those of his former boss.
Moving "The Flash" away from "The Cosby Show" and "The Simpsons" has helped this decent show get fair ratings. The decision to buy movies that haven't aired on cable yet has improved CBS' Tuesday night ratings considerably.
But more trouble spots are on the horizon. "Murder, She Wrote" and "Dallas" both appear to be on their last legs. "The Hogan Family" has already been canceled and the new "Wiseguy" may follow.
ABC: It premiered only five new shows, including the hit "America's Funniest People." The canceled "Cop Rock" was a ratings disaster, and "China Beach" flopped on Saturday night. But ABC has maintained its reputation for taking the most risks and also will get a big ratings fix in January when it carries the Super Bowl.
"Gabriel's Fire" is doing about as well as ABC can expect on Thursday night. "Married People" and "Going Places" should just go.
ABC traditionally premieres its best series in midseason. It needs a few this year because its signature shows might be nearing a creative end. Peter Horton (Gary) is right about "thirtysomething." The story lines are getting even thinner. And "The Wonder Years" also only has an occasional episode -- like last week's basketball show -- that is up to the show's usual quality. There also is the larger issue concerning actor Dan Lauria, who plays Kevin's father. He apparently is as sour as his character, Jack, these days. He says he is leaving the show, which may explain why Jack recently took a job as a traveling salesman.
Fox: It went too far too fast in expanding to five nights. "The Simpsons" is doing fine on Thursday nights and is raking in the advertising revenue from movie companies.
But Fox's hour-long dramas -- "Beverly Hills 90210," "Against the Law" and "DEA" -- were all DOA. Save "Parker Lewis Can't Lose," its new comedies are all losers, too.
Its biggest problem, however, may be with its first established hit, "Married . . . With Children." Fox may be involved in an expensive bidding war with the other networks -- particularly CBS -- to retain the right to carry it.