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So did ABC blunder in positioning this promising, critically acclaimed show directly opposite NBC's powerhouse? Absolutely not, says Jeff Bader, an ABC programming executive. "We'd do the same thing all over again. This is the only show we felt stood a chance against ER. Going into a very, very tough time period, you simply have to use your biggest guns. And Murder One was unquestionably our strongest drama." Of course, gloating would be unseemly when you're slaughtering the competition the way NBC is. So rejoicing in the victor's camp has been restrained. Says NBC's entertainment chief Warren Littlefield diplomatically, "They have a good show. We have a great show."
What happens now? Well, ABC has steadfastly maintained that part of the problem is weak lead-ins and has publicly vowed to keep the program in the same time slot until the end of the calendar year. The network wants to see how the program fares now that Charlie Grace and The Monroes have been canceled and replaced on Thursdays by ice-skating specials, Columbo reruns and the like. Still, Murder One will have missed two airings in the space of a month—once supplanted by the World Series and again on Thanksgiving night by the conclusion of The Beatles Anthology (see review below). These preemptions make it even more difficult for this program, with its dense, serialized narrative, to hold on to its dwindling audience. Many programming experts assume that ABC will simply bite the bullet and keep the show where it is. But ABC is keeping its options open. "If a month from now," states Bader, "we're still seeing the same numbers, we'll have to start reevaluating our position." Jessica Reif, a media analyst for Merrill Lynch, is more blunt: "If the ratings don't pick up, they're going to have to cancel it." Now that would be murder.
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