Good-but-not-great ratings imperil future of 'Jackie Thomas'

January 27, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

When are good ratings not good enough?

"The Jackie Thomas Show" has the kind of ratings that other shows would kill for. It ranks No. 8 among all prime-time series this season -- ahead of such established hits as "Cheers," "Full House" and "Northern Exposure."

Yet eight weeks after its debut, the ABC comedy's future is by no means secure.

The reason: It is failing to hold on to a large number of people who watch the show that precedes it on ABC Tuesday night, "Roseanne." "Roseanne" is the No. 2 show on TV this season, trailing only "60 Minutes" on CBS.

In 1989, ABC canceled the sitcom "Chicken Soup" despite its No. 13 ranking at the time. "Chicken Soup" was losing one-third of the lead-in audience provided by "Roseanne."

When "The Jackie Thomas Show," which stars Tom Arnold as a brutish sitcom star, debuted Dec. 1, it ranked as the No. 2 program that week and retained 90 percent of the audience tuned to Arnold's wife, Roseanne. But the drop-off has been steadily increasing, peaking at 32 percent last week.

ABC and the show's producers maintain that there is no cause for alarm, saying that hit shows take years to develop. And unlike "Chicken Soup," which was popular mainly with older viewers, "Jackie Thomas" draws a much younger, advertiser-friendly crowd.

Other observers in the TV industry are less sure.

"A one-third drop-off is certainly significant. It means a lot of people don't like the show," said producer Fred Silverman, who has overseen programming at ABC, CBS and NBC.

"It's like millions of dollars are falling out of their pockets," he said. "There are very few time periods like 'Roseanne' on television. And when you have a time period like that, it's gold, and that time period should begat a half-hour that does almost as well as a 'Roseanne' show."

ABC would not comment last week, but earlier this month executives had said they were taking a wait-and-see approach regarding the future of "Jackie Thomas." Fourteen episodes were ordered and six more will air before the series goes into reruns. Then ABC has until May to decide on ordering more for the fall.

Of course, when dealing with the Arnolds, business decisions are never simple. Ms. Arnold campaigned hard for ABC to give the choice time slot behind her series to "Jackie Thomas," and in at least one interview Mr. Arnold implied that there could be waves if "Jackie Thomas" were canceled too soon.

"The key will be whether 'Jackie Thomas' can retain its current share," said Bill Croasdale, president of the national broadcast division of the advertising firm Western International Media. "Even with the drop-off from 'Roseanne,' my gut feeling is [that], to keep peace in the family with its major star, ABC will find a way to make it work and continue on the air."

In season-to-date ratings, "Roseanne" is averaging a 32 percent share of the viewing audience. "Coach," which was airing behind "Roseanne" the first half of the season, was falling off an average of 4 to 5 share points. "Jackie Thomas" is falling off an average of 7.

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