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NBC’s reality bumps into ‘American Dream’

Gail Shister The Philadelphia Inquirer

It’s nightmare time for “American Dreams.”

NBC has cut back its season order of the family drama from 19 episodes to 17 and shelved the show for the February sweeps. It won’t return until March.

“It’s very clear we’re on the bubble,” says Tom Verica, who plays patriarch Jack Pryor on “Dreams,” set in the turbulent ‘60s against the backdrop of Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.”

“It’s really demoralizing,” Verica says. “The gypsy life we lead as actors – things happen quickly. Unfortunately they’re usually out of our control.

“I’m very proud of this show,” he adds. “There’s got to be room for a quality family drama.”

Even “Curb Your Enthusiasm” creator Larry David, who hates everything, told Verica that “Dreams” is the only show he watches every week.

“I was stunned,” Verica said. “He’s the biggest curmudgeon in Hollywood.”

The critics – and NBC czar Jeff Zucker – also love the show, but it’s getting clobbered at 8 p.m. Sundays by CBS’s “Cold Case” and ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

In its third season, “Dreams” is averaging 7.5 million viewers, down from almost 10 million in 2002-03 and 8.8 million last season.

To offset its hefty price tag (estimated at more than $1.7 million per episode), executive producer Jonathan Prince has peppered the show with product placements from big-time sponsors.

In one case (Campbell’s Soup), he even created a story line around it.

Last week was brutal on the cast, Verica says, because the end of production was suddenly moved up more than two weeks.

NBC won’t decide until May whether the 17th episode will be the season finale or the series’ swan song.

That episode “was originally designed to be a cliffhanger,” says Verica.

“It would be a tremendous disappointment if this is how the show ends.”

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