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What's a TV hit?  The psychics weigh in

Forget critics' picks; these clairvoyants have handicapped the fall season
/ Source: The Associated Press

TV experts have tracked, stacked and analyzed Internet buzz about the new fall network series, issuing impressive-sounding reports on potential winners and losers.

One company’s approach, the “PropheSEE Fan Engagement Index,” involves a “propriety metric that combines online discussion” about shows and stars to rank the most-anticipated newcomers (for Martha Stewart and Chris Rock, it’s a good thing).

Another firm “employs a proprietary media mining software solution that culls through literally millions of online discussions by TV enthusiasts.”

Whew! That’s all way too technical for me. Besides, unlike corporations that rely on such studies to guide multimillion-dollar ad buys, I just want to know, now, if viewers are ready for Geena Davis as the first woman president or the sitcom comeback of Henry “The Fonz” Winkler.

So I made the logical move. I turned to telephone psychics using good old-fashioned tools, like tarot cards and clairvoyance, in place of the Internet.

I’d done this a few years back, when a soothsayer named Deb accurately predicted “Dharma & Greg” would be a hit. She did blow the call on “Hiller and Diller,” a Kevin Nealon-Richard Lewis sitcom that bombed. But who wouldn’t have given odds to that duo?

Brigitte's witchesThe season officially starting this week seemed like a candidate for paranormal assessment, with the hit “Lost” leading TV into a dark thicket of shows about ghosts, monsters and such. Then there’s Patricia Arquette’s Emmy win for “Medium” (over Glenn Close; talk about supernatural).

A note about methodology: Last time, I made a random phone-directory pick on both the psychic hot line and the seer. This time, striving for improved results, I settled on a service with a Hollywood aura.

My choice: Brigitte Nielsen’s Witches of Salem. Nielsen was married to Sylvester Stallone and starred in “Red Sonja,” and that was good enough for me. Besides, I was promised access to a “gifted witch” for a price I figured was low enough to minimize expense-account scrutiny.

Assessing the on-duty witches was the next step. I picked Suzzan, who said she used both clairvoyance, “audiovoyance” (I liked the sound of that!) and American Indian medicine cards, and who boasted of 14 years as a “professional phone psychic.”

Was she game?

“This sounds like fun,” she responded enthusiastically. (To echo the hot line’s own cautionary note, this exercise is for entertainment purposes only and not intended to advocate psychic stock tips.)

I started tossing titles and stars at Suzzan, fast. She was ready.

  • “Prison Break” on Fox, which debuted early. “A big hit at first with the macho set and then they’ll get bored with it,” she replied, dismissively.
  • “Out of Practice” on CBS, with Henry Winkler and Stockard Channing as doctors in a dysfunctional family. “I get, oddly, that there may be enough snippets of truth here that it could work.”
  • “Everybody Hates Chris,” a UPN sitcom with Chris Rock as executive producer and narrator. “I’m getting a negative connotation about using the word ‘hate.’ ... My guardian angel and guides, which have a really wonderful sense of humor, went ho-hum,” Suzzan reported. Further insult: they added a Bronx cheer.
  • “My Name is Earl,” a NBC sitcom with Jason Lee as a low-rent guy trying to redeem his misspent youth. A likely hit with “those of us who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, with the whole metaphysical, age of Aquarius reality.”
  • “Commander in Chief” on ABC, with Davis as a vice president elevated by death to the top office. A nice idea “but I’m not sure the world is ready for it yet. There hasn’t been enough female power in government to make it credible. Now, if they were doing a show on a woman secretary of state ...”
  • “Ghost Whisperer,” CBS, with Jennifer Love Hewitt as a woman who aids dead people. “From what I can even see by the previews, it’s poorly written and, God love her, she’s a sweet woman, but if she can act she hasn’t found her vehicle yet.” (Hmmm, that sounded more like a review than a crystal-ball revelation; so everyone really IS a critic. We continued.)
  • “Freddie,” an ABC comedy with Freddie Prinze Jr. “Oh, yeah, you’ve got your teenyboppers on up to your 20-somethings. They won’t care what he’s doing or saying, it’s ‘Oh, God, isn’t he gorgeous!’ It’s that demographic, but that’s their target market.”

OK, wait a minute. Suzzan had veered into the network-speak of executives and ratings analysts. Could she have lost touch with her inner clairvoyant?

I turned to another hot line and psychic Will. He seemed a bit hesitant at first but soon warmed up to the task at hand. (The per-minute fee, by the way, was exactly the same as Brigitte Nielsen’s, appealing but mildly suspicious).

Will was more enthusiastic than Suzzan about “Everybody Hates Chris,” echoing upbeat industry forecasts, and agreed with her on “My Name is Earl.” (“That might be the best of the lot.”)

Now for a modest prediction of my own: Whichever series I adopt as a new favorite will be axed. No crystal ball needed for that, just my 27-inch TV set and experience.