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The Ruminator: ABC not seeing clearly on `20/20′

May 28, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The hills are alive with the cries of Barbara. As in Walters. ABC’s news diva-and the Ruminator, to be honest with you-got the shock of their lives earlier this month when the honchos at ABC Entertainment announced their fall schedule. Not only did “20/20,” starring Ms. Walters, lose its 14-year-old Friday night time slot, but come November the show will take a seven-week hiatus from its new Wednesday night spot.
All this appears to be aimed at giving the divorce drama show “Once and Again” another chance to find an audience as it limps into year three. Part of this allows a desperate ABC to put on “NYPD Blue” in time for the sweeps instead of its now customary January premiere.
How shocking was the Walters move? Well, let me put it this way: So sobering is this news that I’ve given up my customary scotch.
Barbara and the ABC News folks appear to have been blindsided by the decision. A few weeks back, news chief David Westin was apparently told there was a possibility of a “20/20” move, but it was a slim one. But, bam!, the move was made and presented to Westin as a done deal. Even when he informed his bosses that his diva would take this very hard indeed, Westin was told-get this: So what! If Roone Arledge were still running ABC News, no way would it have been handled this way.
All this has led Barbara to tell the TV press how disappointed she is. To make ABC matters worse, she goes on her ABC morning show “The View” and again plays the victim, basically telling her fans that A Bastard Company had really dissed her.
Even Dan Rather got into the act, telling an interviewer he’d love to see Barbara come to CBS. All this leads many of us to speculate that some at the Mouse factory feel that the 69-year-old mega-talent and her estimated $12 million-a-year salary might be better off somewhere else.
So what’s really going on here? All networks want and need stars. Barbara is a star. The Ruminator does not believe there is some plot to get Barbara out and use the $12 million to partially fund another lame Disney theme park.
No, Barbara was the victim of the changing world of network news.
While magazine shows get a good number of viewers, the demographics are not so good. ABC can sell spots in the lower-rated but more demo-friendly “Once and Again” for more than it can for “20/20.” And with the advertising economy like it is, especially for the graying ABC, every little bit helps.
This isn’t the only thing in the news world that is changing. Over at NBC, the highly regarded Jonathan Wald left as the “NBC Nightly News” executive producer to take over running the Peacock’s “Today” show. Can you imagine leaving the evening news for morning TV? It used to be the other way around. Prove yourself in the morning and maybe you’d get a shot at the evening news, the network flagship.
This, too, has to do with money. “Today” is NBC News’ ATM: its cash machine. The “Today” show’s demos make it more important to GE’s bottom line than the evening news. The story is the same at ABC and CBS. The growth is in the morning at the expense of the evening.
So welcome to the brave new world of news, network TV style. If the grande dame Barbara Walters is not sacred, who is? Tom, Peter and Dan, are you listening? Christ! Get me that scotch after all-Bill O’Reilly’s on the line.