Desperately seeking summons

As networks set 2000-01 season, programmers eagerly await invitations

Early invitations to the 2000-01 season were handed out by CBS last week, and rival networks ABC, NBC and FOX are said to be close to presenting their Valentines as well.

CBS gave full-season orders late last week to eight series, including two shows that the network owns outright and three series in which it has an ownership interest. Given the green light on the comedy front were the network's three Monday-night sitcoms: Becker, King of Queens and Everybody Loves Raymond.

Five dramas will be back at CBS next year, including newcomer Judging Amy. Touched by an Angel, Walker, Texas Ranger, Nash Bridges and Jag were also given 24-episode commitments from CBS. In addition, freshman drama Family Law and veteran series Diagnosis Murder are expected to be picked up for next season.

Left out of the early renewal party were a handful of high-profile CBS series, including Steven Bochco's primarily African-American series City of Angels. The mid-season series struggled to find an audience in its early 8 p.m. ET/PT time slot but averaged only a 2.7 rating in adults 18-49 and 8.6 million viewers in its first 10 outings, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Last week, in an effort to help get the show another season, the NAACP started a campaign for it. NAACP President-CEO Kweisi Mfume urged his members to support Angels, saying it "embodies the key principles needed to increase diversity on the network level."

Other shows whose fate at CBS is said to be uncertain include Ladies Man, Now & Again, Martial Law, Early Edition and Bill Cosby's Kids Say the Darndest Things. Cosby, the comedian/actor's former CBS comedy, ended its run at the network last month. CBS executives had no comment on the future of the other series.

With the network upfronts only a month away, rival networks were also scrambling last week to figure out which shows will be given renewed life. At ABC, NYPD Blue is expected back, and freshman drama Once and Again and comedy Two Guys and a Girl are also expected to make the cut. Spin City has already been renewed, as have Dharma & Greg, The Drew Carey Show and The Practice. In limbo: Norm, The Hughleys and Boy Meets World.

NBC has already guaranteed another year to Law & Order, The West Wing, ER, Third Watch, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, 3rd Rock From the Sun and Frasier. On Friday, NBC renewed sophomore series Will & Grace for two more seasons.

Friends is questionable because of contract negotiations with its stars, while late-season addition Daddio and Just Shoot Me are expected to be back. Suddenly Susan, Veronica's Closet and Jesse are likely to exit, and Stark Raving Mad and Battery Park are still in doubt.

Sure things at FOX include new hit Malcolm in the Middle, Ally McBeal, That'70s Show, King of the Hill, The Simpsons and Futurama. Saturday night's Cops and America's Most Wanted, plus mid-season series Titus, are also believed returning. But whether The X-Files will be on the air in 2000-01 is still a mystery.