New network series: is anyone watching?
New York — Once again, industry pundits are calling the new commercial TV season the worst ever. Every year there seems to be the same reaction and every year one goes through the same syndrome of listening to network executives insist they are doing the best they can to deliver what American viewers demand.
But is this demand really for simplistic, superficial sitcom fare?
With delays caused by the recent writers' strike, with schedule upheavals caused by late World Series games and early football games, it is still difficult to find trends and patterns, much less winners and losers. But the latest Nielsen ratings need to be examined carefully if we're not to be thrown off by unbalanced facts.
In the week ending Nov. 1 - more or less accepted as the fourth week of the new season - not one new series show landed in the top 25 shows of the week, a most unusual result. In 26th place, with a 27 percent share of the audience, was NBC's controversial Tony Randall show, ''Love, Sidney.'' Not too far down the list was ''Mr. Merlin'' (CBS). All other new series, from all networks, landed in the bottom 15 (out of a total of 67 shows rated).
One of the most interesting of the figures was the comparatively large viewership for the much-debated Emmy-winner ''Hill Street Blues'' (NBC), which garnered its best rating ever (31st, with a 33 percent share of the audience). It was the beneficiary of one of the most intensive promotional campaigns ever.
But since the last week was a World Series week, it is a bit unfair to some of the new sitcoms that show some signs of possibly making it - among them ''Best of the West'' (NBC) and ''Today's FBI'' (ABC). (''FBI'' suffered from big-movie competition its second time out, after a good start.)
Many new shows, however, have not yet hit the airwaves, and CBS still has great hopes for its forthcoming ''Shannon'' and ''Simon and Simon.'' But you can probably scratch such shows as ''Code Red'' (ABC), ''Lewis and Clark'' (NBC), ''Making a Living'' (ABC), ''Gimme a Break'' (NBC), ''Maggie'' (ABC), and ''Fitz and Bones'' (NBC), all of which plunged seemingly irretrievably into the lower depths last week.
There is still more to come during the next month, and the networks are hoping the big surprises are yet in store.
Meanwhile, the new 1981-82 season shows all signs of being very much like its recent predecessors - full of low-level losers. ''The worst season ever'' seems normal each year for network series programming.
If you are looking for surprises, however, it might be a good idea to take a look at the latest network evening news ratings. ''ABC's World News Tonight'' finished first in the ratings last week, with NBC second and CBS third. 'The Vietnam Veteran'
Veterans Day, Nov. 11, is set aside for remembrance of those men and women who served their country in battle. For many Vietnam veterans, the battle still rages.
If you watch a distressing but strangely uplifting two-hour series of Veterans Day films, you may find the battle also raging for you. It is already raging among organized veterans' groups, which have protested to PBS officials over the showing of one of the segments, ''Frank.''
The show, originated by WGBH, Boston, is ''The Vietnam Veteran: A Matter of Life and Death'' (PBS, 9-11 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats; since many PBS affiliates may decide not to air the program at all, check your local PBS station in advance). The special show combines several documentary reports on the varied veterans of the Vietnam war. But the most controversial is a film that has already aired in Boston, creating great controversy, and that will be repeated there: ''Frank: A Portrait of a Vietnam Veteran.''
Admittedly, ''Frank'' is difficult viewing - simply a one-hour, ''talking head,'' one-sided interview with a twice-wounded, often-decorated US Navy river patrolman about his exploits in Vietnam and his 10-year attempt to adjust to American society upon his return.
After regaling viewers with stark, unnerving facts, Frank goes on to say: ''My feeling is that we need for people to talk like I'm talking right now - to be honest about what happened over there so that these guys who are walking the streets . . . can feel the freedom to talk about it.''
It is understandable that the American Legion should protest the airing - charging that it will ''reinforce certain prejudices which, over the last decade , have created unemployment and other obstacles for this youngest generation of veterans.''
The commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars charges that ''the individual on the program is totally unlike the vast majority of Vietnam vets. He admits to being a dope addict prior to entry into service and, while on duty, a war criminal, an alcoholic, and unable to cope with his service experiences. While the VFW realizes some Vietnam veterans had difficulties, most all returned to their communities as responsible citizens.''
Lawrence Grossman, president of PBS, responds: '' 'Frank' will be only one segment of the special - a powerful retelling of one man's reaction to the war and his own difficult adjustment after leaving Vietnam. In no way is it implied that Frank's experiences were universal ones.''
Although Frank has suffered greatly as a result of his inability to cope with Vietnam warfare, he seems to be on the road to recovery. The show's great value is its recognition that at least Frank - and the nation - sees the potential danger to an individual's balance which active (and even, perhaps, naive) participation in experiences like Vietnam can sometimes cause. Worth noting
CBS: 60 Minutes (7-8 p.m., check local listings)
PBS: Nova (8-9, check local listings)
TUESDAYPBS: Cosmos (8-9 p.m.)
Odyssey (9-10 p.m.)
PBS: MacNeil/Lehrer Report (7:30-8 p.m.)
Washington Week in Review (8-8:30 p.m.)
Wall Street Week (8:30-9 p.m.)
Enterprise (9-9:30 p.m.)
Ben Wattenberg (9:30-10 p.m.)
Julia Child (10-10:30 p.m.)
(In the case of all PBS programming, check local listings, since there is much local option in scheduling.)