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A common refrain of TV critics lately is just how bad the new TV season -- much of which will premiere this week -- is going to be.

John Carman, TV columnist of the San Francisco Chronicle, has written a scathing evaluation of the fall programs and, in an interview with Advertising Age, said he was more discouraged than ever by the medium's fare.

"It seems that now we are on a steady course downward," he lamented, noting that in the past he has been satisfied to follow the belief that TV is cyclical -- one season might be great and the next one not.

The statistics seem to back him up. Of the dozens of new shows that premiered last year, only four were renewed: "Ally McBeal," "Dharma & Greg," "Veronica's Closet" and "Working."

Of those, only the first two came anywhere near the definition of a hit.

Outside of the WB's "Felicity," critics and pundits alike don't see too many winners this fall either.

A dearth of hits is not good for advertisers looking for programming vehicles with mass appeal. But Mr. Carman, ironically, believes advertisers have had a hand in the lack of hits in recent years and the poor prospects for this season.


"The demographic precision demanded by advertisers hurts overall programming quality," Mr. Carman said.

For example, if a show such as "Friends" is successful with young adults, then the networks will get aboard the "Friends" clone-wagon.

"What you are doing in making shows to target demographic groups is making shows that feel very contrived," Mr. Carman said.

"We'd be much better off if we could somehow go back in time and just had household ratings," he said. "We'd have much better programming."

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