Low TV Ratings? Play Musical Celebrities

Here is a public service message for the producers of network TV shows: I'm here to help you, and I'm not from the government. Listen carefully. I know you folks are under siege these days. Critics say too many of your programs contain excessive violence or gratuitous sex. Even worse, audience numbers are dropping. Viewers are wandering off to cable channels, the World Wide Web, and other entertainment alternatives.

This problem won't be solved by churning out more silly sitcoms and gritty cop shows. You people simply need to make better use of the existing resources.

Take a page out of Hollywood history, and start loaning out your big stars to other programs. This wiII maximize the exposure of popular celebrities while perking up tired, stale story lines.

The following examples are offered free of charge. Just be careful to stand back when the overnight ratings come pouring in.

* Dennis Franz moves from "NYPD Blue" to "The X-Files." Isn't it about time that agents Scully and Mulder got some help from a streetwise cop who isn't going to be alarmed or intimidated by wild claims of alien invasions, government conspiracies, or paranormal experiences?

Close your eyes and imagine the sarcasm in Detective Sipowicz's voice during a typical interrogation: "Lady, yer tellin' me some little green guy zapped you into a flyin' saucer, put you on a table, and scanned yer brain for national security secrets while you were in some kinda trance? Ma'am, it sounds to me like you been watchin' too much Jerry Springer!"

* George Clooney moves from "ER" to "Baywatch." Fans of the hip hospital drama grit their teeth each week as Dr. Doug Ross, brooding but brilliant pediatrician, feuds with colleagues and fails in all attempts to sustain romantic relationships. He needs some R&R amid the surf and sand of sunny southern California. Periodic water rescues would provide plenty of opportunities for first-aid action sequences. And more important, Clooney admirers would finally get a chance to see him in bathing attire.

* Susan Lucci moves from "All My Children" to "Melrose Place." Is there any character on daytime TV you love to hate more than the conniving, deceitful Erica Kane? Moving her into prime time would set up the Mother of All Soap Opera Battles when she faces off with supervixen Heather Locklear. I even have a slogan for this one: "TV so hot, it could speed up global warming!"

The current season is winding down. If you producers get busy right now, these crossover episodes will be ready in time for the November sweeps. You can call and thank me later. Just one request: Don't call me "babe."

* Jeffrey Shaffer's latest book is 'It Came With the House' (Catbird Press, 1997). He watches television in Portland, Ore.

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