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As replacements, the producers hired two better-known actors who had never appeared in series television - Catherine Hicks, who had starred in the movie ''Marilyn,'' and Tim Matheson, who had shown a special talent for comedy in several films, including ''Animal House.'' The pilot, which served as the premiere episode, was remade with the new leads.

The result prompted a mixed reaction among critics. on Tuesdays - up against ABC's ''Dynasty,'' one of the hottest series in prime time.

Until then, the two partners had focused their efforts on made-for-television movies, among them the reasonably well-received ''Mae West,'' ''Freedom'' and ''Having It All.'' Prior to their collaboration, Mr.

Hill, 35, had been a vice president for ABC in its TV movies department. Mandelker, 43, had been an executive at Warner Brothers, whose projects ranged from the critically acclaimed ''The Women's Room'' to the mindless but immensely popular CBS series ''The Dukes of Hazzard.'' The lure of series television is simple: big money.

''It's a very subjective call, but I just didn't think they had breakthrough chemistry,'' explains Kim Le Masters, a CBS executive who worked closely with the project.

''Half of us thought she was the problem, the other half thought he was the problem, so we ended up replacing both.'' Mr. ''We wanted the male to have a stronger sense of comedy, and the female to be a little more vulnerable,'' he says.

Correction Appended It was an unabashedly derivative idea - a detective drama centered around a married couple - with a tiny novel twist: the female character would double as a witch with telekinetic powers.

CBS liked the concept enough to order up a script - one of perhaps a hundred that it orders each year in developing its prime-time schedule.

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Although the odds against selling a pilot are long, and the networks barely pay enough to cover the costs of producing a successful show in its first several years, the eventual return can be enormous.

A producer who sells reruns of a successful series to stations on a syndicated basis can earn tens of millions of dollars.

Hill cites ''The Thin Man'' films as an inspiration, the more obvious and less elegant model for ''Tucker's Witch'' was ''Hart to Hart,'' the four-year-old hit series on ABC in which Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers play a husband-and-wife detective team. Your choices are dictated by what options you have, and this was clearly superior to other things around.

What you hope is that it will grow over time, by virtue of the relationship between the leads and the bonus of a witch whose magic sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. Audiences want something different, but not too different.'' Largely by virtue of Mr.