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ABC moves first, NBC eyes fall weaknesses

Oct 14, 2002  •  Post A Comment

ABC’s wholesale scheduling moves last week-including the cancellation of a pair of dramas-has triggered heated Hollywood speculation about potential counterprogramming moves from the other Big 4 networks.
Next up could be NBC, which despite leading the 18 to 49 demo so far season-to-date, has seen ratings declines in several spots in its Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday lineups.
Not surprisingly, ABC was the first network to make major scheduling moves after “Push, Nevada” (Thursdays at 9 p.m.) and “That Was Then” (Fridays at 9 p.m.) stumbled badly from the outset.
Although the Ben Affleck-created “Push, Nevada” did receive some positive reviews for its hybrid drama/treasure hunt format, ABC found it to be ratings grist for CBS’s highly rated “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” drama and NBC’s “Will & Grace” comedy to chew on. “Push’s” seventh and final episode will air Oct. 24. ABC will air a two-hour rebroadcast of “Monk’s” series premiere in its time slot on Oct. 31, but the network has yet to firm up plans for the following weeks.
“Thursday is still a black hole in the ratings for ABC. Putting `Push’ there was like feeding it to the piranhas,” said a talent agency packager, who requested anonymity.
Because of the serialized nature and flow of clues in “Push, Nevada,” talent agency and media buying sources found that ABC’s special preview at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 17, led to confusion among viewers when the show ultimately moved to its Thursday night berth two nights later.
“Maybe it would have made sense to run more episodes of `Push’ starting in the middle of the summer to get an early jump in audience sampling,” said Carolyn Finger, VP of the Internet-based TVtracker.com.
Looking to quickly plug other scheduling gaps, ABC moved “Monk” to the 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. Monday time slot, hoping for more compatible ratings flow into “Monday Night Football.” The move of “Monk” from its short-term Thursday time slot raises significant doubts about whether the upcoming series “Dinotopia”-which is scheduled to premiere on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 21-will be any more capable of improving the time slot.
Given the ratings success of “The Bachelor II” in the 9 p.m. Wednesday time slot, talent agency sources said ABC is considering duplicating the reality formula to launch either spinoff “The Bachelorette” or the network’s “American Girl” project (from “American Idol” creator Simon Fuller) in the 9 p.m. Thursday time slot starting in January.
Talent agency sources also said ABC has accelerated midseason production on a number of prospective dramas. One of the new dramas getting some early notice is the four-episode order on “And Then Came Jones.” The Western adventure-comedy is set in the late 1800s and centers around a man who runs a brothel and serves as the town’s mayor. The project comes from producers Chris Bandato and Bert Salke, co-creators of NBC’s Sunday drama “Boomtown.”
Meanwhile, speculation is starting to focus in earnest on NBC, which has seen its 10 p.m. Monday drama “Crossing Jordan” get beaten by CBS’s rookie “CSI: Miami.” Already, agency sources suggested NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker may be leaning toward scheduling the edgy “Kingpin” drug serial in “Crossing Jordan’s” slot. That would leave NBC the option of putting “Jordan” into the 9 p.m. Friday time slot and moving “Dateline NBC” an hour earlier to “Providence’s” current 8 p.m. time slot.
One agency source said Mr. Zucker has little allegiance to “Providence,” which has been losing steam over the past two seasons. The series’ 2.6 rating/8 share average in adults 18 to 49 for its season opener on Oct. 4 dropped 23 percent from its year-ago rollout (3.4/12). “Jeff has always thought `Providence’ is a bit too soft for the 8 o’clock Friday slot,” the source said.
NBC is also said to be concerned about the recent ratings downturn for its 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. Wednesday drama stalwarts “Ed” and “The West Wing.”
In the first three weeks of this season, “West Wing’s” 5.8/14 average among adults 18 to 49 is down 33 percent from the comparable year-ago span (8.7/21). Some of that unfavorable comparison may have resulted from spiked post-Sept. 11 viewer interest in the White House drama. Part of “West Wing’s” drop may also be attributable to a 16 percent year-to-year drop for lead-in “Ed,” which is finding its 3.6/10 average in adults 18 to 49 considerably behind ABC’s “My Wife & Kids” and “George Lopez.”
Mr. Zucker is also said to be taking a hard look at the Mr. Smith-goes-to-Washington drama “Mister Sterling,” which has a 13-episode commitment, to use as a more compatible lead-in to “West Wing.”
Industry watchers suggest NBC is also paying close attention to its 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday comedy lineups. Most troubling is “Scrubs”’ 66 percent retention out of its blockbuster “Friends” lead-in-already below NBC’s predetermined 70 percent-plus retention threshold.
“Everyone seemed so focused on ABC having problems with its schedule, but it is also NBC that is going to have to address some potential trouble spots through several nights of its schedule,” Ms. Finger said. “No one said life at the top is a picnic.”
Programming executives at ABC and NBC either were unavailable or declined comment.