Self-serving networks risk alienating viewers

When you only talk to yourself, or about yourself, people stop listening. And, no, I'm not talking about Omarosa. As the networks' ratings plunge, I'm increasingly convinced that they are making programming decisions based solely on odd deals and corporate dynamics. As a result, they offer shows and gimmicks that only make sense to the executives running the networks. Nobody asked me, but that's a recipe for extinction.

Take tonight's ABC lineup. For reasons only an ABC suit could explain, the slate of "TGIF" comedies are "hosted" by Jennifer Garner of "Alias." When I read that she and her modestly rated show earned a long-term ABC contract, I was certain she would become the new Drew Carey. And she has.

Not that long ago, Drew popped up all over the schedule, promoting ABC shows that had nothing to do with his eponymous sitcom. It did not help the ratings of ABC, and it made people sick of "The Drew Carey Show," a comedy that ABC flogged long beyond its prime because of absurd contractual obligations. Jennifer Garner is a lot easier on the eyes than Drew, but it's sad to see her employed like some Disney flunky, presiding over helpings of "George Lopez" and "Married to the Kellys."

  • ABC is hardly alone. Tonight's "Dateline" (7 p.m., NBC) devotes two hours to the results of "The Apprentice." Hey, folks -- the show's over! It's one thing for "Today" or "The Tonight Show" to have the winner appear for a brief chat, but there's something downright lame when a show run by the network's news division devotes 120 minutes to an entertainment-division reality show that has already run its course.

Dozens of American soldiers returned home from Iraq last week -- in coffins. Apparently, "Dateline" considers that less newsworthy than Donald Trump's NBC series.

  • "Now with Bill Moyers" (8 p.m., PBS) offers a report on "Who is in Control in Iraq," and author Kevin Phillips discusses the winners and losers in America's economy.

Tonight's other highlights

  • The Boston Red Sox meet the New York Yankees (7 p.m., Fox).
  • A blaze traps revelers at a rave on "Third Watch" (9 p.m., NBC).
  • Scheduled on "20/20" (9 p.m., ABC): botched plastic surgery; marriage therapy on the quick; medical diagnostics on the cheap.
  • Scheduled on "On the Record with Bob Costas" (10 p.m., HBO): Pierce Brosnan.

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