NEW YORK – Network TV, which once ruled the roost and is now less than half of all TV viewing, has had it up to here with cable.
"Nobody in America has seen The Shield," Jeff Zucker, president of NBC entertainment, told The Post, dismissing the critically acclaimed cop drama.
Its stars, Mike Chiklis, was the suprise winner of the best-actor Emmy last week, beating Martin Sheen, who plays the President on NBC's political drama The West Wing.
And NBC, along with the other three broadcast networks, are tired of hearing that people have to look to cable if they want something other than lowest-common denominator shows.
"The most ground-breaking dramas have been on NBC not on cable," says Zucker.
"In their times, St. Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues, ER and The West Wing all broke more ground in terms of dramatic television than anything" cable has put on the air in recent years, he says.
"Just because you can use an expletive doesn't make a show groundbreaking."
But ever since The Sopranos became one of the most talked-about dramas in TV history, networks have been searching for ways to translate that uncompromising, adult appeal to broadcast TV -- without offending viewers or breaking decency regulations.
Even Zucker's boss, NBC chief Bob Wright, caused a stir last year when an internal memo was leaked in which he wondered whether The Sopranos could be a model for the networks -- without the nudity, rough language and violence.
It would appear that Zucker has risen to the challenge. Among NBC's newest crop, is the unconventional crime drama Boomtown (which debuted last night) and a mid-season show called Kingpin, described as a Latino Sopranos.
Zucker vehemently denies the memo had anything to do with the latest generation of NBC programming.
"The fact is, these shows were developed on their own merits," he says of Boomtown and Kingpin.
Yet another edgy NBC show in development is called Coupling, and has been described as a cross between Friends and Sex and the City.
"It could never play before 9:30 at night, it has a very adult sensibility," Zucker said.