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GIVE GUMBEL'S SHOW TIME TO GROW; 'OZ' NOMINATED FOR SEVEN CABLE ACE AWARDS

At the end of Wednesday's inaugural "Public Eye With Bryant Gumbel," the classy host thanked his audience for watching the live CBS program as it tried to get the bugs out.

The most notable bug came during a chat with contributor Gail Sheehy, author of "Passages." In a segment in which she discussed whether the stock of celebrities is rising or declining, she called the host "Michael" before correcting herself.

She had Michael on her mind because her first comment was about Michael Jackson. Sheehy continued to have trouble reading her script, which made this passage seem like an eternity. Her stock is sharply down.

Gumbel's stock as an interviewer -- which opened the show about as high as it could get -- tumbled only slightly in an interview with the Army's top enlisted man, Army Sgt. Maj. Gene McKinney. He is accused of 22 counts of sexual misconduct by several women in the service.

Gumbel valiantly and unsuccessfully tried to get something significant out of McKinney, an officer who was gentleman enough to refer to his interviewer as "Mr. Gumbel" several times. (Not once did he call him "Michael.") However, McKinney's denials were far from startling. The e-mail that Gumbel read at the show's end from a viewer wondering why all these women would make up the allegations pretty much summarized what many in the audience probably were thinking.

The e-mail segment, along with Sheehy's stock segments, gives "Eye" a soft "Dateline: NBC" quality that one might not have expected to see in a Gumbel show. One half-expected him to cut off Sheehy's shallow piece in midsentence.

There also is a Public Pulse segment in which "Eye" takes an instant scientific poll. The first Pulse came after a piece on parents who undergo a medical procedure that increases their chances of having a baby of their preferred sex. The Pulse of the community was that this practice was morally wrong.

As expected, the most moving segment was one in which the "Eye" cameras and reporter Peter Van Sant showed several babies in North Korea who are dying of starvation and malnutrition. You didn't need to take a Pulse poll to realize that that piece moved the pulse -- and the heart -- of anyone watching.

The piece was followed by a live Gumbel interview with Bill Richardson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Richardson, who addressed the issue on NBC's "Meet the Press" three days earlier, explained that these babies couldn't be adopted by Americans because we have no relationship with their country. It was a disturbing comment in a haunting piece that overshadowed all the gimmicks of the program.

The one sure way to take stock of Gumbel's show is its ratings. The first program had a 7 rating and 11 share in one of TV's most difficult time slots. It isn't great, but it isn't a disaster, either.

Off the premiere, "Eye" is entering typical newsmagazine territory, with Gumbel's name and interviewing style as the extra selling points.

If CBS needs any reassurance that it should give Gumbel's show time to grow, it's "Dateline: NBC." It took years to get the bugs out, but "Dateline's" stock is now soaring on four nights.

Another day, another Buffalo television angle. Guess who is one of David Caruso's co-stars on "Michael Hayes"? It's Ruben Santiago-Hudson, a Lackawanna native who won a 1996 Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a Drama for his role in the Broadway production of "Seven Guitars."

Christine Healy, daughter of Jean Healy and the late Channel 4 sportscaster Chuck Healy, recently filmed an episode of Fox's "The Visitor" that was directed by Fred Keller. She also has upcoming guest shots in NBC's "The Pretender," ABC's "The Practice" and WB's "Seventh Heaven."

But the most surprising local angle concerns Fox's "Ally McBeal." A colleague advises me that the parents of the star of the show, Calista Flockhart, lived in Orchard Park until a few years ago. In a recent letter to members of her book club, Flockhart's mom wrote that her daughter had grabbed the lead role in "McBeal."

ABC has moved back the premiere of the Tim Curry-Annie Potts series "Over the Top" to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 21. The network says it is pleased with the early scripts and is just buying time to give the show a maximum publicity push. The move allows "Soul Man" to play at 8:30 p.m. for several weeks before battling "Mad About You" at 8 p.m. Tuesdays. Until then, reruns of "Home Improvement" kick off ABC's schedule at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Tom Fontana's HBO prison series, "Oz," was nominated for seven cable ACE awards. Fontana was nominated in the Best Writing of a Drama or Special category. The awards will be handed out Nov. 15 and be carried by TNT.

Quote of the week comes courtesy of Andy Rooney of "60 Minutes." At the end of Sunday's piece about dog food, Rooney picked up a can of President's Choice, which is carried locally by Tops Friendly Markets. Said Rooney: "I'll be damned. I heard (Clinton would) eat anything."

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