Curtain Falls on ‘Jane Pauley’

Mar 14, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Despite its deal with stations for two years, NBC Universal Television Distribution’s first-year strip “The Jane Pauley Show”-launched in a post-Olympics glow last year with great fanfare and enviable clearances on the NBC owned-and-operated stations-has been canceled.

Last Friday staffers on the show, who were expecting “Jane” to go into a two-week hiatus, were told the show would remain in production until late April. “Pauley” will air a mix of repeats and original episodes up to May and be all-original for the sweeps. The show will run for the full season through the end of August.

In a statement released Friday, NBC Universal said, “Jane Pauley is one of the most experienced, trusted broadcasters in the nation and held with the highest regard within the NBC Universal family.”

Jane Pauley said in the same statement, “We started out with an enormous vote of confidence from our stations and have seen our audience grow steadily from November until now, but it came too late for too many to stick with us.” Ms. Pauley thanked her staff’s “incredible commitment” and added, “I remain deeply grateful to NBC for the chance of a lifetime. I absolutely loved it!”

The pulled plug on “Pauley” came just days before the final February sweeps numbers for syndicated programs are scheduled to arrive this week. The February sweeps give many TV stations and groups the ratings they need to judge the performance of their daytime strips. If metered-market overnights and the November sweeps are any measure, a number of other freshman shows are about to face the music as well and may not survive for another season either.

Still, despite clear signs that certain shows are going away, studios are keeping mum when it comes to announcing the end.

The studios’ hesitation to confirm cancellations appeared heightened, said Garnett Losak, VP and director of programming at Petry TV, the day before “Pauley’s” cancellation went public.

“It’s really amazing to me,” Ms. Losak said about the reluctance of syndicators to announce cancellations. “It’s particularly pronounced this year, especially because there [are] shows that are not getting on the air.”

Besides “Jane” and “Good Day Live,” which Twentieth Television confirmed in late February, other candidates for cancellation include Twentieth’s “Texas Justice,” which had a season household rating of 2.0 through Feb. 27, according to Nielsen Media Research. Rookies Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution’s “The Larry Elder Show” (0.9) and Sony Pictures Television’s “Pat Croce: Moving In” (0.7) and “Life & Style” (0.5) also are considered on the bubble.

Warner Bros., Twentieth and Sony said no decisions have been made on their respective shows.

“Justice” is said to be out of production, and the Houston sound stage where the show had been shooting is expected to become the home for Twentieth’s new courtroom show “Judge Alex.” Warner Bros.’ energies are said to be focused on gaining further clearances for its new strip “The Tyra Banks Show.” Sources said both “Croce” and “Life & Style” are considered expensive productions that aren’t financially viable given their current ratings.

Ms. Losak said she was surprised that so many shows in the ratings cellar have not been officially canceled.

“We have several programs on the air that most are speculating are not coming back,” she said. “They are certainly not being sold.”

Among the new shows waiting in the wings for time periods to open up as a result of cancellations are Sony’s daytime strip with Robin Quivers. Sony aggressively shopped the show at the National Association of Television Program Executives convention in January, but the distributor has not yet announced any market clearances. Sony also has yet to pull the project off the market for fall.

That’s what Twentieth did in late-February with its strip “The Suze Orman Show,” when the studio announced it would hold “Suze” until fall 2006, despite confirmations on Feb. 16 from WCBS-TV in New York and from KNBC-TV in Los Angeles that the show was cleared on both stations. An executive at a major station group said two high-profile clearances weren’t enough to convince Twentieth that “Suze” was financially feasible.

“It’s a very expensive show to produce,” he said. “While they got clearances, I don’t believe they got the license fees to warrant going forward.”

Shows Just Fade Away

To Bill Carroll, Katz Television Group VP and director of group programming, the fact that syndicators have not made announcements about the impending end of their strips isn’t all that surprising.

“In the current environment, shows rarely get canceled,” he said, “they just fade away.”

Mr. Carroll said a syndicator playing coy about a show’s future is doing more than just saving face.

“As soon as a show is announced as canceled, they lose the time period,” he said, noting that shows with no future risk downgrades and far less ad revenue for the rest of the season. “They have already sold the barter, and the barter is often tied to the time period. Thus there is no advantage to saying the show is canceled, even though everyone knows what’s going on.”

Syndicators wouldn’t be doing themselves any favors in terms of their remaining production schedules, either. If a show gets canceled, mercurial talent can become more difficult to deal with, on-set morale is at risk and behind-the-scenes staff might jump ship early, making a difficult situation even worse.

But as dire as the situation might look for some shows at this point in the season, Initiative Media Executive VP and Director of Global Research Integration Stacey Lynn Koerner said it may be premature to write off strips that appear to be at risk.

“It’s up to the stations,” she said, noting that any demographic breakdown of February sweeps is still speculative for stations in nonmetered markets. “They are going to wait and see what their books look like from November to February. It really is a more early-April kind of time period for seeing these kinds of announcements.”

But with so many ratings-challenged shows currently on the air and relatively few new replacements coming online, stations are likely to have more available time slots than original programming.

Mr. Carroll said the issue facing syndicators and stations isn’t whether there are enough shows to fill all the empty holes.

“The real question never has to do with scarcity of product,” he said. “It always has to do with viability of production. The show has to be financially sound for any of the syndicators to take a show forward. If there’s no upside potential for shows on the bubble, the bubble bursts if there’s no money.”

The result could mean more double and triple runs of existing shows, or offers from syndicators for first-run library product for cash. This is an easy short-term solution for stations, but Ms. Losak said relying solely on double and triple airings each day crowds out the market for new programming in a business where it takes many failures to find one hit.

By overusing multiple runs, she said, “The stations will kill the shows that are working. You can’t make hits if you can’t make new shows. It’s a business of high risk. It’s stupid to think we’re going to run `Divorce Court’ 24 hours a day. It may be good for the quarter, but over time it doesn’t do anybody good. You can’t give up.”

Jon Lafayette contributed to this report.