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Television's rush of nostalgia for old programming looks to have played itself out

NEW YORK (AP) _ The flood of nostalgia for television's old shows looks like it's becoming old news.

After a May ratings ``sweeps'' with clip-filled specials saluting ``The Cosby Show,'' ``M-A-S-H,'' ``The Mary Tyler Moore Show,'' ``Laverne and Shirley'' and other defunct programs, television executives admitted that yes, they overdid it.

``Too many of them quickly killed the golden goose,'' Jeff Zucker, NBC entertainment president, said Tuesday. ``We'll do more of them in the future, but not a lot.''

Networks started raiding their vaults for the old material after CBS specials last November on Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball stunned executives by drawing huge audiences.

Their good showings were credited, in part, to a yearning for simpler times and easy entertainment by a nation still bruised by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. As is often the case when something unexpectedly does well in television, there was a rush to duplicate the success.

Some of the shows did well, including NBC's 75th anniversary salute to itself. Last week's look back at ``The Cosby Show'' drew 18.5 million viewers and finished in Nielsen Media Research's top 10 programs for the week despite stiff competition.

CBS' reunion of ``The Mary Tyler Moore Show'' cast members was seen by 12.5 million viewers and the ``M-A-S-H'' reunion show had 10.5 million viewers on Fox _ more than any other show on the network last week except for the concluding episode of ``The X-Files.''

They paled, though, in comparison to the nearly 30 million viewers who watched the Carol Burnett special last November.

``There were probably too many clip shows done in May sweeps by all of the networks,'' said Susan Lyne, ABC entertainment president. ``Very few of them did really stellar numbers.''

Lyne said she believed viewers are frustrated during ratings ``sweeps'' months when their favorite programs are replaced so often by specials. Those are the periods when ratings are watched closely to set advertising rates.

CBS president Leslie Moonves said the reason such specials have run their course is more mundane: ``I think people may have drained their libraries,'' he said.

Nostalgia on television will take a different form next fall. Both NBC and Fox have scheduled new prime-time series set in the early 1960s, with the NBC series built around a girl's desire to dance on ``American Bandstand.''

And both ABC and the WB have new shows featuring characters who travel through time back to high school in the late 1980s, enabling the networks to revisit that era's hair and clothing styles.
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