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‘NewsRadio’ Expected To Continue

May 29, 1998

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Phil Hartman was one of the key players on ``NewsRadio,″ but his death isn’t likely to end the series.

``NBC won’t cancel the series,″ industry analyst Larry Gerbrandt of Paul Kagan Associates predicted Thursday. ``It’s in the grandest tradition of the theater world, the show must go on.″

Historically, the abrupt loss of an actor hasn’t been enough to shut down other TV series, even when the performer was a featured player or when the circumstances were tragic.

The network and series producer Brillstein-Grey had no comment on the series’ future after Hartman was found shot to death Thursday in an apparent murder-suicide committed by his wife in their Los Angeles area home.

Last week, NBC renewed the comedy set in a radio news station for a fourth season, though the show has struggled to find its audience.

How the loss of an actor is handled, how crucial the performer was to a series and the program’s own strength help determine if it keeps its footing _ and how viewers respond.

In 1977, comedian Freddie Prinze, star of ``Chico and the Man,″ committed suicide in the third year of the popular NBC sitcom. The network cast a new Chico, or at least a 12-year-old version of him, with a young actor. The show was gone in a year.

In 1984, ``Cover Up″ star Jon-Erik Hexum fatally shot himself while playing with a prop gun on the set. Anthony Hamilton replaced him in the CBS adventure series opposite Jennifer O’Neill; the show was canceled in 1985.

Redd Foxx died of a heart attack in 1991, a month after the premiere of the CBS sitcom ``The Royal Family.″ His death was written into the show, which was reshaped with the addition of the actress Jackee. The show went off the air in May 1992.

Other shows have weathered the sudden loss of actors.

On ``Dallas,″ the 1981 heart attack death of Jim Davis was mirrored by the passing of the character he played, family patriarch Jock Ewing. The Ewing family mourned him and the show continued for a decade.

Nicholas Colasanto, who played the charmingly dense ``Coach″ Patusso on ``Cheers,″ also was felled by a heart attack, in the third season. He was replaced by Woody Harrelson, who played his own popular version of a lovably dim barkeep from 1985-93.

When Michael Conrad, the police sergeant who always warned the officers of ``Hill Street Blues″ to ``be careful out there,″ died of cancer in 1983, Robert Prosky stepped in as a new sergeant as the series continued for three more years.

Paying tribute to a departed character is a way of mourning the actor who played the role. ``Hill Street″ retired Conrad’s trademark phrase, while ``Dallas″ prominently displayed a portrait of Davis in the Ewing homestead.

Often, fellow actors and others connected with a series have to cope with the loss of a friend as well as a colleague. A spokesman for ``Dallas″ star Larry Hagman said Davis’ death was so painful″ the actor ``couldn’t even talk about it.″

Professionally, however, few people are irreplaceable, particularly in an ensemble show such as ``NewsRadio″ with a number of leading players, including Dave Foley and Andy Dick.

``The incident, however unfortunate, happened early enough that they hadn’t started shooting new episodes″ for the coming season, Gerbrandt said. That gives producers a chance to fill Hartman’s place.

The actor’s character, egotistical news anchor Bill McNeal, may be replaced by an entirely different type of figure.

``This may sound ghoulish, but they could get a ratings boost off of this as viewers tune in to see who the new character is,″ Gerbrandt said.

Might this business-as-usual attitude seem callous? Gerbrandt doesn’t think so: ``For gosh sake, even the Blues Brothers are back.″

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