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Feb 26, 2003  •  Post A Comment

ABC renews seven prime-time series

ABC picked up seven of its current series for next season, including all four of its freshman comedies.

Sitcoms “8 Simple Rules,” “According to Jim,” “George Lopez,” “Less Than Perfect,” “Life With Bonnie” and “My Wife and Kids” all will return next year. Sophomore Sunday drama “Alias” also got an order for next year.

ABC Entertainment Television Group Chairman Lloyd Braun said the early pickups will allow those showrunners to get a three-month head start on hiring and writing scripts for next season.

Mr. Braun said ABC has also picked up another season of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and the fourth installment of reality show “The Bachelor.” “NYPD Blue” had previously been picked up for another season.

“That’s 10 shows that will be on our schedule for next year and will form the foundation of this rebuilding process,” Mr. Braun said. ABC is expected to finish the February sweeps in fourth place in the key adults 18 to 49 demographic.

While not happy about a fourth-place sweeps finish, Mr. Braun said ABC did grow 30 percent year to year in the 18 to 49 demographic. “I’ll take a 30 percent improvement and fourth place over first place and 7 percent improvement any day,” he said. “The truth is I want to finish first and be up 30 percent. I don’t like us finishing anywhere other than first. The reality of the television world today is it’s going to be a totally new story every single sweeps period. I don’t like it [finishing fourth] but I’m much more focused on the rebuilding of the network.”

ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne detailed several midseason scheduling moves. She said the network’s Monday night drama lineup of “Veritas,” “The Practice” and “Miracles” will return. “We obviously ran into the maelstrom that was ‘Joe Millionaire’ and took those shows off the air for the last two weeks of sweeps to protect original episodes,” she said. “We will be relaunching them fiercely next week.”

Sitcom “The Drew Carey Show” will go on hiatus and return for a 10-episode summer run. Ms. Lyne said the writers were informed of that decision earlier and are writing specifically with the summer in mind. “Drew” will return in its original Wednesday 9 p.m. time slot on June 25. The series’ 200th episode will be included in this run, which Ms. Lyne said is designed to help breathe new life into the series. “Whose Line Is It Anyway” will also return in the summer.

ABC will use the Academy Awards on Sunday, March 23, to promote its other midseason programming. Sitcom “Regular Joe” will debut Friday, March 28, with reruns of “8 Simple Rules” as its lead-in. Sitcom “Lost at Home” will get a four-episode tryout on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. starting April 1. “According to Jim” will move to 9 p.m. as its lead-in. “Jim” repeats will air at 8:30 p.m.

Mr. Braun said he didn’t think the influx of reality shows ABC put on this sweeps, such as “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” or “Are You Hot?” dragged ABC down. Instead, they all improved time periods.

“We’re trying out new reality shows,” he said. “We’re trying to take away as many [scripted series] repeats as we can. You take a big hit when you put repeat programming on. We will try out at midseason a variety of shows in this reality wheel with hope of finding some that really pop that we can use on Thursday night [next fall].”

Mr. Braun also said the network is looking at new ways of airing repeats to freshen them up in some way for the viewers. Ms. Lyne said ABC is looking at something more dramatic than adding new material a la a DVD cut, but wouldn’t specify. She said the network is planning to experiment with repeats of one of its dramas.

“NYPD Blue” will be replaced for four or five weeks by reality show “The Family,” which will then move to Thursday nights. Ms. Lyne said this will give the show sampling on Tuesday and allows “Blue” to finish out the season with six original episodes and no repeats. Kim Delaney will also return for a story arc during the May sweeps, Ms. Lyne said.

Fox wins demo in sweeps: Fox won its first sweeps ever in the adults 18 to 49 demographic in February sweeps.

It is projected to finish eight-tenths of a ratings point ahead of second-place NBC. Fox also won among adults 18 to 34 and teens.

Much of the credit for the sweeps victory goes to reality shows “Joe Millionaire” and “American Idol.” However, Fox Television Entertainment Group Chairman Sandy Grushow said Fox was able to capitalize on those reality shows and use them to boost scripted programming such as “24,” up 26 percent over November 2002; “That ’70s Show,” up 36 percent; “Cedric The Entertainer,” up 27 percent; and “Bernie Mac,” up 58 percent.

“We had a plan that has been more effective than we have ever hoped for,” said Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman. “The schedule that won the sweeps is the same schedule that will carry us through March and beyond.”

One thing that will be missing from the ongoing schedule is “Joe Millionaire.” In its place starting this Monday will be “Married by America,” followed by another relationship show, “Mr. Personality” — about how looks affect love — which will air in late April after “Married” finishes its run. Ms. Berman said Fox doesn’t expect those shows to pull the phenomenal ratings “Joe Millionaire” did, but added that the network does expect them to do well since they have a similar sensibility.

While the network originally thought there was no way to do another “Joe Millionaire” given its unique twist ending, Mr. Grushow said, “Plans for the next ‘Joe Millionaire’ are already under way.”

Ms. Berman and Mr. Grushow wouldn’t divulge how the show will work, but Mr. Grushow said, “There will be men. There will be women. There will be romance. There will be money at stake.”

He said it should be looked at as a sequel, similar to movie sequels.

Ms. Berman also announced that real-time drama “24” will be back for another season. The early pickup will give the writers a chance to plant the seeds for next season, she said.

Despite the win, Mr. Grushow said the network still has work to do on Thursday and Friday nights. He said Fox will stick to a Thursday night schedule of repeats of the Monday reality show “Married by America” or “Mr. Personality,” followed by newsmagazine “The Pulse.”

NBC loses sweeps adult demo: For the first time in 12 sweeps NBC lost the 18 to 49 race to Fox by eight-tenths of a ratings point.”It’s been three years since we last lost a sweeps, dating all the way back to February of 2000, and that’s when ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’ was red-hot,” NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker said. “Clearly we seem to run into problems with shows that involve millionaires.”

On the bright side, Mr. Zucker said NBC improved its season average 7 percent in adults 18 to 49 during the February sweeps and improved on six of the seven nights of the week. NBC was projected to finish sweeps with a 4.8 adults 18 to 49 rating behind Fox’s 5.6 rating.

Mr. Zucker said scripted programming remained the focus at NBC, with 72 percent of its sweeps programming being scripted compared with 68 percent for CBS, 47 percent for Fox and 37 percent for ABC. Mr. Zucker said there is still a huge premium attached to quality scripted shows by advertisers. However, he said some reality shows like “American Idol” and “Joe Millionaire” are attracting large upscale audiences and, “If you can develop programs like that, then that’s a good business to be in.”

He said NBC will work to develop unscripted programming that fits in with the network’s quality schedule. “Clearly we need a relationship show to go with the great success of ‘Fear Factor,’ he said. “That’s what we will focus on this summer and next year.”

Two of NBC’s series “Ed” and freshman drama “Boomtown” will finish their seasons before May sweeps, Mr. Zucker said. “Ed” will move to Fridays 9 p.m. on March 21 to air its last three episodes of the season. It’s lead-in will be the new unscripted show “Search for America’s Most Talented Kid,” a talent show for kids age 3 to 15. It will be hosted by Mario Lopez, and N’Sync’s
Lance Bass will be one of the judges. “Dateline NBC” will take “Ed’s” place on Wednesdays at 8 p.m.

Current 8 p.m. Friday night show “Mister Sterling” has improved on “Providence’s” numbers by one-tenth of a ratings point, and Mr. Zucker said he’s disappointed the show hasn’t performed better. “We’ve traded ‘Providence’ for ‘Providence,’ he said. The show has four weeks left in its run, and a decision on its future will be made depending on how it performs, Mr. Zucker said.

“Boomtown” returns to the schedule this Sunday at 10 p.m., with the first of its last six episodes of the season. It will be pre-empted twice for the Oscars and a made-for-TV movie in April and end its run right before May sweeps. Mr. Zucker said they do plan to replace it in May sweeps, but he gave no details.

Mr. Zucker said he was pleased with the performance of the six-episode series “Kingpin,” which ran for three weeks on Sundays and Tuesdays, but said, “In retrospect I made a mistake in scheduling it. If I could have done it again, I would have spread it over six Sundays.” “Kingpin” did win its time slot in adults 18 to 49 in four of its six airings and did very well with upscale viewers. Mr. Zucker said the series remains a strong contender for the fall schedule.

This sweeps saw a large number of last minute scheduling changes, including numerous ones by NBC. Mr. Zucker said the changes they made pre-empting shows such as “Scrubs,” “Good Morning, Miami” and “Third Watch” was to protect them and didn’t mean they didn’t believe in those shows. “I took ‘Third Watch’ off when the ‘Joe Millionaire’ finale was coming on,” he said. “I don’t think that hurt ‘Third Watch.’ I think that was protecting ‘Third Watch.’ It’s not an ideal situation, but viewers find the shows they love.”

In development news, NBC signed Heather Locklear and Tom Selleck for pilots for next year. The much-sought-after Ms. Locklear will star in “Once Around the Park” as a divorced woman whose kids don’t want their parents to get back together. Mr. Selleck will headline a sitcom called “Touch ‘Em All McCall,” in which he plays an ex-baseball player who returns home after his career has dried up.

Broadcast Cable Financial names Collins president/CEO: Mary Collins has been named president and CEO of the Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association and its Broadcast Cable Credit Association subsidiary.

Ms. Collins, who most recently served as VP of regional sales for Diva Communications, replaces Buz Buzogany, who served as the organization’s president and CEO for 10 years.

Ms. Collins has held sales, marketing and business development positions at several cable programming networks, including American Movie Classics, Bravo, Sportschannel Chicago, Playboy Channel and the Food Network.

The BCFMA is a North American service organization for CFOs, business managers and human-resource and IT professionals in broadcast and cable television and radio.

‘Donahue’ exit makes room for controversial Savage: One day after his attempt at a TV comeback ended with cancellation of his six-month-old MSNBC show, Phil Donahue released a statement in which he wished his eventual successor, “A longer time in the ring and a more patient management team loudly cheering from the corner” and said the recent hiring of three conservatives, controversial radio talk jock Michael Savage, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and former Congressman Joe Scarborough, “Suggests a strategy to outfox Fox [News Channel].” Mr. Donahue said he’d gotten support from NBC News and MSNBC executives. “They were all rooting for us,” he said. “I hope in the future they’ll be visited more frequently by the GE/NBC brass, who should know that these worker bees have kept on in spite of the turmoil of high program turnover, bad press and even a very public rebuke from their own CEO, Jeffrey Immelt.”

Mr. Donahue, a loud and unabashed liberal whose final original show Monday featured Rosie O’Donnell talking about her opposition to a war on Iraq, said, “We were hoping to break through the noisy drums of war on cable to become a responsible platform for dissenters as well as administration supporters.”

Meanwhile, organized protest is growing over MSNBC’s decision to give a weekend show to Mr. Savage, whose habit of saying such things as Hispanics “breed like rabbits,” women “should have been denied the vote” and “The gay and lesbian Mafia wants our children” has earned him a reputation as a hate monger and not the “compassionate conservative” he calls himself.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Wednesday posted an action alert on its Web site urging that MSNBC “rethink” its decision to give Mr. Savage an hour-long show on Saturdays (starting on a date still to be announced).

The National Organization for Women is expected to notify NBC parent company General Electric and Microsoft today that, “It is very important that the corporations that own the media get the message: Profiting from hate will cost them the business of thinking consumers. That applies to GE as well as Microsoft.”

With the cancellation Tuesday of Mr. Donahue’s show and the recent hiring of Mr. Armey as a regular commentator, MSNBC has “created a situation that makes it impossible to get a moderate message out,” NOW President Kim Gandy said.

“We’ve done our homework on this,” said Cathy Renna, news media director for GLAAD, which applied similar pressure in 2000 when Paramount built a short-lived syndicated TV show around conservative Dr. Laura Schlessinger, whose comments on gays became a lightning rod. “There are a lot of different organizations concerned about giving a platform to Michael Savage.”

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting senior analyst Steve Rendall said FAIR is disturbed by the message from MSNBC that “They can’t be held responsible for what he has said in the past,” only for what he says on MSNBC’s air. “That sounds a lot like Dr. Laura’s people at Paramount. Isn’t that why they hired [Mr. Savage]? It is what he said in the past that is getting him in the door.”

NBC and GE were unavailable for comment. Microsoft had no immediate response.

Mr. Savage said, “So, these folks want to ban a show that’s not yet aired? Isn’t that censorship of the worst kind?”

“I invite any of their leadership to submit a request to appear on my radio show. I believe in fairness,” he said.

In a statement, MSNBC said, “The addition of Michael Savage to the MSNBC lineup was made with the full awareness of his reputation for controversy and confrontation. We respect the right of those who wish to protest. However, we also strongly defend his new show as a legitimate attempt to expand the marketplace of ideas. By bringing our viewers a wide range of strong, opinionated voices, MSNBC underscores its commitment to ensuring that its perspective programming promotes no one single point of view. We encourage debate and we would neither expect, nor want, our audience to agree with everything on our channel.”

‘Angel’ heads to TNT: TNT is about to become “Angel”-ic now that the cable network has entered an agreement with Twentieth Television to air off-net rights of the WB series “Angel” as early as fall 2003. Angel joins a TNT lineup that features top dramas such as “Law & Order,” “NYPD Blue,” “ER,” “The X-Files” and “Charmed,” which form the network’s daytime lineup. Since its launch in October 2002 TNT’s daytime lineup has posted double-digit growth across key adults and households vs. previous weekday blocks and helped power TNT to its best-ever total-day growth in network history this past year.

“Over the past two years, we’ve enjoyed a mutually rewarding relationship with the Turner networks,” stated Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of Twentieth Television. “That relationship continues to thrive with this recent purchase. We’re pleased to have “Angel” joining the list of high-profile dramas on TNT’s schedule. Executive producer Joss Whedon has created and continues to deliver an innovative, groundbreaking show that has garnered a tremendous fan base.”

CBS adds another sitcom pilot: CBS has ordered a sitcom pilot s
tarring Nicole Sullivan. Ms. Sullivan plays a veterinarian who is newly married to a man with three brothers. She finds that instead of just one new man in her life, she has four. The untitled pilot from Touchstone Television is written and executive produced by Susan Dickes.