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Mar 28, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Thursday, March 28, at 11:05 a.m. (PT); last updated at 5:30 p.m.

ABC cancels ‘Once and Again’

Citing ongoing rating problems, ABC has decided to cancel the critically-received drama “Once and Again,” setting Monday, April 15 as its final airdate (10 p.m. to 11 p.m., ET).

Announcement of the series finale, though not entirely unexpected, comes amidst a consistent viewer and activist group write-in campaign to keep the three-year-old series — from executive producers Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick — in first-run production. At one point last season, when it appeared the show would not be renewed for 2001-02, it had been rumored that ABC and its Touchstone Television production unit would keep the show alive in first-run for two more seasons to take advantage of the lucrative back-end syndication market on cable.

There had even been talk of moving the first-run episodes next season exclusively to the Lifetime cable network, where it has had secondary repurposing window on episodes for all three of its broadcast seasons. But given the increased expense of producing broadcast network drama series, there is some question as to whether Lifetime or Disney’s recently acquired ABC Family Channel would be willing to step up on higher-than-typical cable license fees to keep “Once and Again” in first-run. Lifetime and ABC officials were unreachable for comment late Thursday.

Judging from ABC’s press release, including prepared comments from Mr. Herskovitz and Mr. Zwick, it looks like the producers and ABC are consigned to producing a final episode that apparently will bring closure to the show’s characters’ ongoing storylines.

“We have been particularly moved by the outpouring of support by so many fans in their efforts to save the show,” Mr. Zwick said. “And we’re grateful that ABC has given us the chance to create a final episode that does justice to those who have been so loyal to the series.”

In adults 18 to 49 this season, “O&A” is averaging a 2.8 rating/8 share, off 33 percent from its comparable year-ago average (4.2/11) and currently ranking it 90th of 173 regular scheduled programs this season. It has also averaged 6.5 million total viewers (ranking 107th), down 24 percent from an 8.9 million average head count last season.

The decision to axe “Once and Again,” which has run on a handful of different nights over its three seasons before settling back into the 10 p.m. Monday time slot last January, is entirely based on its ratings, said an ABC spokeswoman. However, recently-installed ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne, who has been a champion of the show, made no reference in the release to the current ratings slump for the show. It appears to deviate from normal programming strategies, however, not to give the show a finale in the critical May 2002 sweeps period, when interest in series typically gets increased sampling and interest from TV viewers.

“Once and Again” comes from Mr. Zwick’s and Mr. Herskovitz’s production unit, The Bedford Falls Company, which produces the show in association with Touchstone Television.

Viacom to hold all 38 stations until ownership debate is resolved: The Federal Communications Commission granted Viacom a waiver Thursday allowing the media company to hold all of its TV stations until at least a year after the agency decides what to do about a regulation that bars broadcasters from owning stations reaching more than 35 percent of the nation’s TV homes. The regulation is an issue because Viacom’s acquisition of CBS gave it interests in 38 stations reaching 41 percent of homes.

When the FCC originally blessed that deal two years ago, it granted Viacom a temporary waiver, and a federal appeals court subsequently stayed any divestiture obligations while the national ownership regulation was under appeal. Earlier this year, the court sent the regulation back to the FCC for further review. Thursday’s waiver, according to the FCC, will give Viacom time to come into compliance with whatever new rules remain on the books after the agency’s review.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, the agency’s sole Democrat, dissented in part, making clear that he would have started the 12-month clock running immediately. “Given the lengthy time period required for a proceeding on the national television ownership cap, and the subsequent reconsideration of any decision resulting from that proceeding, the 12-month period granted here is not likely even to commence for many more than 12 months,” Mr. Copps said. “Under this scenario, endgame could well be the 12th of never, and as the song reminds us, that’s a long, long time.” Fox Television Stations, which says it holds stations reaching about 37 percent of the country, is protected — at least for the time being — under a separate waiver.

Wiser promoted at Time Warner Cable: Time Warner Cable has promoted Elliott Wiser to VP of news programming for all of the company’s 24-hour local news channels. Mr. Wiser was general manager at 24-hour news channel Bay News 9 in Tampa, Fla. Besides Tampa, Time Warner Cable currently has news channels in New York City; Rochester, N.Y.; Orlando, Fla.; Austin, Texas; and Raleigh, N.C. It is planning to launch channels in Houston; San Antonio, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Syracuse, N.Y.; and Albany, N.Y.

Tribune’s FitzSimons to head federal media security committee: The Federal Communications Commission today announced that Dennis FitzSimons, president and chief operating officer of Tribune Co., has been named to head a new federal advisory committee on media security. The committee will study ways to ensure the security of broadcast, cable and satellite TV industries.

‘Greg the Bunny’ races past ‘Wednesday 9:30’: Two new midseason comedies made their debuts Wednesday night, and Fox’s “Greg the Bunny” easily leapt over ABC’s premiere of “Wednesday 9:30 (8:30 Central).” Coming on the heels of Fox’s successful midseason launch of Tuesday’s “Andy Richter Controls the Universe,” Wednesday night’s opening of “Greg the Bunny” helped Fox turn in a second-ranked finish in adults 18 to 49.

Despite a modest 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. (ET) lead-in from “That ’80s Show” and “Grounded for Life,” “Bernie Mac’s” robust 4.6 rating/12 share average in adults 18 to 49 at 9 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. helped trigger “Greg the Bunny’s” second-ranked 4.7/12 average. According to comparable Nielsen Media Research fast national data, “Greg’s” adults 18 to 49 rating marked a healthy 57 percent increase over what an original episode of “Titus” averaged in the same week-ago time slot (3.0/8).

“Greg” also won the time period in Fox’s core adults 18 to 34 (5.5/16) and teen demos (6.5/22), achieving 62 percent and 38 percent spikes from prior week scores in the frame. The bad-mouthing bunny also drew an evening-high 10.1 million total viewers for Fox during the half-hour.

ABC’s “Wednesday 9:30 (8:30 Central)” earned a third-ranked 3.1/8 score in adults 18 to 49 and was beaten by “Greg The Bunny” by a 51 percent margin. The Ivan Sergei-led sitcom had 80 percent retention from its “Drew Carey Show” lead-in (3.9/10), but was off 3 percent from the prior week’s adults 18 to 49 score for ABC’s “The Job” (3.2/8).

NBC’s “The West Wing” won the 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. frame in adults 18 to 49 (6.4/16), achieving a 36 percent increase over a week-ago repeat episode (4.7/12). While “Survivor: Marquesas” — which returns to its 8 p.m. Thursday slot this week — had provided a super-charged lead-in the two previous Wednesdays, its absence left the 9 p.m. run of “Amazing Race 2” vulnerable to a 35 percent week-to-week drop (4.0/10 vs. 6.2/15) among adults 18 to 49.

To open the evening, ABC had been on winning footing with “My Wife & Kids” (4.0/12) and the premiere of “The George Lopez Show” (3.7/11), both of which improved 11 percent and 16 percent, respectively, from week-ago time-slot scores in adults 18 to 49. Also on a positive note, “George,” which drew 10.3 million viewers, held 93 percent retention of its “My Wife” lead-in ratings in adults 18 to 49.

NBC’s return to original episode of “Law & Order” (7.4/20) handily won the 10 p.m. hour and was up 23 percent ov
er last week’s repeat (6.0/17).

NBC won the night in adults 18 to 49 (5.8/16), improving 29 percent from last Wednesday. Fox’s second-ranked 3.9/11 was up 34 percent. ABC’s 3.5/10 moved up 6 percent, while CBS’s 3.2/9 marked a 48 percent drop week to week.#

(c) Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications