WASHINGTON, DC—Citing lackluster ratings in an increasingly competitive cable market, C-SPAN announced Monday that it will beef up the cast of characters on its daily congressional broadcasts with "Mr. Slotnik," a gruff but lovable landlord who owns the Capitol Building where sessions of Congress take place.

Former <I>Three's Company</I> star Norman Fell (inset), who now plays C-SPAN's 'Mr. Slotnik,' the cranky, mop-waving landlord who drives his congressional tenants up the wall.

C-SPAN programmers are hopeful that the cantankerous Slotnik character, played by veteran sitcom actor Norman Fell, will inject a much-needed element of comic relief into the long-running legislative series.

"Many TV viewers are curious about Congress, but simply have no inclination to sit through countless hours of dry, minutiae-filled legislative discussion," said C-SPAN vice-president of programming Kenneth Silvers. "The added comic element of Mr. Slotnik and his humorous outbursts will help viewers stay interested in the lawmaking process. Hopefully, he will also attract TV viewers who just need a laugh, even if they don't care about the U.S. government."

Slotnik made his debut on Friday's broadcast during a debate on a bill to allocate $4 million for the preservation of Florida wetlands. As Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) was finishing a point about the economic viability of the resolution, Slotnik pounded on the doors to the Senate chamber and shouted, "Will you keep it down in there!" He then stormed into the chamber onto the senate floor, where he began arguing with members of the Senate Select Committee On Aging.

"You deadbeat legislators are two months behind on the rent!" said the cranky, mop-waving Slotnik to the bi-partisan committee of legislators. "If I don't have that money by Friday, I'll kick your butts so hard you'll taste my shoe polish for a week!" Slotnik then stormed out, accompanied by canned laughter.

C-SPAN programmers are elated by viewers' strong response to Mr. Slotnik. "Our focus groups consistently rate the new Slotnik character higher than any of the legislators, Senate or House," Silvers said. "And the decision to enhance congressional broadcasts with a laugh track has worked out even better than we had hoped."

Fell says his Slotnik character may seem gruff at first, but deep down he is a lovable softie. "The role of Slotnik is a complex one for me," the former Three's Company star said. "He seems angry at the congressmen for their non-stop bill-proposing and coalition-building, but underneath it all, he is very proud of his tenants for having been elected to lead America."

Though widely tagged as "risky" by TV industry insiders, C-SPAN's decision to add the Slotnik character is already paying off: The network earned its highest ratings in more than a decade for Wednesday's "hammock" episode. In the episode, Slotnik, attempting to skip out on the tedious chore of fixing congressional plumbing and catch a nap on the sly, falls out of a hastily constructed hammock numerous times, repeatedly disrupting an important House Standing Agriculture Committee discussion of a proposal to increase federal subsidies to independent farmers.

Said committee chair Pat Roberts (R-KS): "No matter how hard he tried, Slotnik couldn't get a second of rest, as that hammock kept turning over and dumping him on the ground. I laughed so hard, I could barely keep track of which subsidies we were approving and which we weren't!"

While most legislators have not been able to get enough of the irrepressible Slotnik and his antics, some are finding him hard to handle. "My cake was ruined when Slotnik's hare-brained scheme to finance Medicare by raising and selling rare long-haired goats went awry," said Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-AK). "Now I may never graduate from chef school!"

Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN) agreed. "That man is going to drive me bonkers," he said. "I'll never be in position to make a run for president in 2000 if he doesn't stop his incessant meddling. Look at what he did to my good tie!" Thompson then held up a silk tie full of holes. "I told Slotnik that his plan to fix the laundry machine himself instead of paying for a professional was a recipe for disaster. But did he listen? Of course not!"

If the strong ratings continue, C-SPAN plans next month to introduce "Slim," the Senate's streetwise, jive-talking sidekick.