FALL HOLDS FEW THRILLS FOR TV BUYERS: ANNUAL SURVEY TRACKS AGENCIES' REACTION TO NEW PRIME-TIME FARE

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NBC's dominance on Thursday night should propel "Veronica's Closet" and "Union Square" to hit status next season, according to Advertising Age's annual survey of agency media buyers' expectations on new prime-time TV programming.

But a good number of those executives still bemoan the lack of excitement in the upcoming season.

DISAPPOINTING SAMENESS

"Most disappointing is the sameness of it all," said Tom Watson, VP-audience research at Western International Media, Los Angeles, who added, "I was hoping that the networks would take chances this year, and none of them have. It's no way to counter their eroding audience to cable."

As for "Union Square," a number of executives said it really didn't look that great but, "hammocked between 'Friends' and 'Seinfeld,' the show can't miss," said one.

NBC itself, however, said the network was particularly impressed by the ensemble cast of "Union Square," and "it might take some tweaking to get the proper balance between characters but we think this show can really work," an insider said.

"Veronica's Closet," from War-ner Bros., was genuinely liked by a number of agency managers. The show stars "Cheers" veteran Kirstie Alley and comes from the creators of "Friends."

"Hiller & Diller," on ABC, was another show picked to do well, and it has the coveted spot after "Home Improvement."

DESIRABLE ABC TIME SLOT

Last season, ABC put "Spin City" with Michael J. Fox in that slot and, with various misfires on the creative end, the results were disappointing. Like Mr. Fox, Kevin Nealon and Richard Lewis-the leads in "Hiller & Diller"-are TV veterans.

"As appealing as Nealon and Lewis are, it's the writing that will likely distinguish this show," predicted one agency media executive.

Veteran movie-writing team Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel ("Parenthood," "City Slickers," "Father's Day") are the executive producers.

ELFMAN WILL BE 'BIG'

If a genuine TV star is to emerge next season, it could be Jenna Elfman, the co-star of ABC's "Dharma & Greg."

A number of agency people poked fun at the name of the show, saying it should be changed, and many questioned whether the sitcom would work. "But even if this isn't the right vehicle, Elfman's going to be a big TV star at some point," said one agency media manager.

"What particularly strikes me is the almost total lack of counterprogramming by the four major networks," said Steve Sternberg, senior partner-media resources at BJK&E Media Group, New York.

Instead of counterprogramming CBS' comedy line-up on Mondays, for example, NBC

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