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IT'S PILOT SEASON, the annual rite of developing new network television programs for the fall, and, inevitably, the old will make way for the new. Amidst the natural selection, the careful observer notices certain durable programs which return year after year even though they are not well adapted to their environment. Despite their inadequate (viewer) hunting skills, they are blessed with some amazing adaptation that allows them to avoid the fate of the Stegosaurus and "Once and Again."
Let's take a look at the numbers. According to the year 2000 census, the total population of the United States of America is 281,421,906 people and about as many deer. Of the humans, the census tells us that 1,421,906 are Amish, homeless or otherwise too pretentious to watch TV. That leaves a conveniently round 280 million viewers. So why do so few of the 280 million Americans watch what I consider the three best shows on TV?
The three best shows on TV are among those obstinate programs that manage to survive season upon season despite drawing a tiny percentage of the available viewing populace. But when you look at the numbers, you’ll see that these shows are in grave danger. How much longer can they hold on? I hope that you’ll make a commitment this week to start supporting…
"Friends" (NBC, 8 PM, Thursdays)
On average, 17 million Americans have watched "Friends" each week this year. That means that approximately 263 million Americans are not watching it. If you're one of the lucky few who've learned to love these friends, do one of your friends a favor and tell him to watch this show.
Chandler, Rachel and the rest of the gang have engaged in a series of polymorphous pairings for seven sexy seasons. Still remarkably fresh for a network warhorse, "Friends" has made it this far even though relatively no one is watching. Don’t let this show die.
"E.R." (NBC, 10 PM, Thursdays)
Rumor has it that this season will be the last for calm, compassionate, competent Dr. Mark Green (Anthony Edwards), a character I wish more of you had given yourselves the opportunity to know. You see, almost 16 million Americans watch "E.R." every Thursday, but 264 million are denied the soothing reassurance of office hours with Dr. Green. Do we fans dare to hope that the show will catch fire in the next few weeks?
"Frasier" (NBC, 8 PM, Tuesdays)
Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) is that rarest of TV birds: a character that just keeps on growing. Surrounded by the best supporting cast on television, Frasier tangles himself (and us) in some bizarre comical dilemma and then finds his way out, keeping the audience laughing all the way, 26 Tuesdays a year. What a pity, then, that out of 280 million potential viewers, only a comparative handful (14 million) get to see Grammer’s antics. As Frasier himself might say with his characteristic smart-man accent, "It's the saddest thing since Madame Butterfly…"
I can’t complete the quote because I’m not, and no one could be, as erudite and witty as Frasier Crane. But you can make a move the brilliant doctor would approve of: Save this show before its luck runs out.

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