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If there is any group to blame for all the shows with high school and post-college elements this season starring little-known beautiful and handsome actors, it is the network executives who picked the shows.

But a second group also deserves some of the blame -- newspaper critics.

At least, that was what CBS' top researcher, David Poltrack, implied during the recent television critics press tour in Los Angeles.

And like any good researcher, Poltrack had information to back up his theory.

He gave me a sheet that listed the familiarity rating of various TV stars, their so-called "Q" score that measures their popularity and the number of articles written by national newspapers and local ones in the Top 56 markets, which includes The Buffalo News.

Now I know that Poltrack wasn't trying to be too subtle here. He works for a network, CBS, with the oldest audience in television. Most of its viewers wouldn't know Buffy the Vampire Slayer from Buffy St. Marie. Obviously, the figures were going to look favorably on CBS.

So it wasn't totally surprising that Sarah Michelle Gellar -- the Vampire Slayer -- had more articles written about her in the USA Today, New York Times and the 56 local newspapers than anyone on Poltrack's list.

No. 2?

"Felicity" star Keri Russell.

If Poltrack's theory is correct, many of you reading this story couldn't pick Gellar or Russell out of a Seventeen magazine lineup of cover girls.

According to Poltrack, Gellar had 579 articles written about her in the 56 newspapers, a familiarity rating of 48 percent among readers and a Q score of 28.

Russell had 413 articles written about here, a familiarity rating of 22 and a Q score of 23.

The next two figures in Poltrack's equation dealt with popular CBS shows.

Della Reese of "Touched by an Angel" has a familiarity rating of 67 percent (19 percent ahead of Gellar), a Q score of 39 (11 above Gellar) and yet had only 240 articles written about her (339 fewer than Gellar).

Clarence Gilyard of "Walker, Texas Ranger" has a familiarity rating of 55 percent, a Q score of 32, and 21 articles written about him in the 56 newspapers. USA Today and New York Times didn't write a one. Gellar had three times as many articles written about her in the USA Today than Gilyard had in all 56 national newspapers.

Boy, did this make me feel guilty. After all, I had just done a Gellar interview.

After the interview ran, my tennis partner asked if I really thought people were that interested in Gellar. And he is only 25 years old, which is right in the WB demographic.

Of course, Poltrack wouldn't give me the entire list of Q scores and articles, so it was difficult to know if these examples accurately reflected how out of touch newspaper critics are with their readers.

There also were no figures asking readers if they wanted to read more about people they didn't know or watch just so they could better understand what their children enjoyed.

Poltrack did say that Bill Cosby is the most popular male performer among newspaper readers and Reese the most popular female, one point ahead of co-star Roma Downey. Calista Flockhart, star of "Ally McBeal," surprisingly finishes below Keri Russell.

Poltrack also had some information on how newspaper readers -- who tend to be as old as CBS viewers -- ranked TV shows.

The Top 10 among those who read any newspaper were "ER," "60 Minutes," "Frasier," "Touched by an Angel," "Friends," "Law & Order," "Walker, Texas Ranger," "NYPD Blue," "The X-Files" and "2 0/2 0 Friday." Except for "Angel" and "Walker," most of those shows get a fair amount of publicity, thereby fulfilling the twin goals of writing about good shows that are popular with readers.

With the exception of "Friends" and "The X-Files," the casts of those programs aren't exactly young.

"Buffy" was No. 55, one spot ahead of "Dawson's Creek," and 11 spots ahead of "Felicity."

Poltrack's point was simple: Newspaper critics spend a lot more time writing about programs that their readers aren't that interested in.

We shouldn't be indicted for it. It is just the nature of the beast that trendy shows get more attention than older, established stars like Reese or Cosby because there really isn't much new to say about them.

The tendency to inflate coverage of younger shows certainly makes the networks' decision -- all but CBS, that is -- to produce programs that feature the young and trendy with rock music playing in the background more understandable.

Since those programs get more press and attention, it stands to reason that more people may initially watch an episode. And getting people to sample shows is one of the networks' biggest problems today.

That said, I still feel a little guilty about the length of my Buffy the Vampire story. And as penance for it, in the new few months I promise to write a Clarence Gilyard piece for all you "Texas Ranger" fans.

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