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FX replaces `McBeal’ with `M*A*S*H’

Nov 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Despite an expensive promotional push for its fall prime-time strips, FX has already broken up the high-profile off-network block in favor of an old dependable, “M*A*S*H.”
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Ally McBeal” and “The Practice” ran from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. (ET) for just five weeks before disappointing ratings led FX to yank “Ally” for November sweeps and start double-running “The Practice” in its place.
“Ally” moved to 11 p.m., where it will remain through at least December, while double-runs of “M*A*S*H” will get the 8 p.m. hammock spot between “Buffy” and “The Practice” in December.
Chuck Saftler, senior VP of programming and acquisitions at FX, said the increased competition after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 made it hard to launch the trio of shows.
“It was extremely difficult to get out of the gate,” Mr. Saftler said, recalling how the broadcast networks had delayed the start of their fall seasons. That meant the FX block suddenly had to contend with the broadcast fall-season premieres. On top of that was increased competition from the all-news cable networks, which saw their audiences grow to unprecedented levels.
Then when the broadcast networks went into all-out sweeps mode for November, FX retrenched, double-running both “Buffy” (6 p.m. to 8 p.m.) and “The Practice” (8 p.m. to 10 p.m.), and shifting “Ally” to 11 p.m. in what Mr. Saftler said was meant to be a temporary move.
FX is not burying “Ally” by leaving it in the 11 p.m. time slot, Mr. Saftler said. Instead, the decision should be seen as praise for the ratings job the quirky one-hour comedy, starring Calista Flockhart as the Boston lawyer with an active fantasy life, has done in the time period, improving the season-to-date rating by 9 percent over last year with adults 18 to 49.
At 8 p.m., however, “Ally” did earn a lower rating than “NYPD Blue,” the series that occupied the slot a year ago, Mr. Saftler said. For its five-week run at 8 p.m., “Ally” was tallying a 0.4 rating; “Blue” had done a 0.5, according to FX research.
The numbers for “The Practice,” like “Ally” a critical hit from producer David E. Kelley, have been disappointing, too, Mr. Saftler said, echoing a comment that News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch made at the recent News Corp. annual shareholders meeting. But Mr. Saftler predicted that the addition of “M*A*S*H” as a compatible lead-in will help “The Practice” find its FX audience. “We’re not going to get a real break until December with these shows,” he said.
“Buffy,” remains, however, a bright ratings spot on the schedule, and its double-run will be continued. “Coming off WB-type numbers … [`Buffy’ proves that] these emerging networks can produce very viable hits for the back-end,” Mr. Saftler said.
He declined to discuss the license fees FX is paying for its various off-network Fox series. Both “Buffy” and “The Practice,” however, went over to FX for more than $600,000 per episode, according to reports at the time of the sales.
As for breaking up the highly promoted original programming trio, Mr. Saftler said, “It doesn’t matter if they all run together. What matters is that they are put in a time period where they work best and can find an audience.”