Flat ratings make CBS about to give up 'Hope'

October 06, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

None of the new fall shows will beat Glenn Frey's record last year, when his "South of Sunset" series was axed after one airing, but the heads are starting to roll on network row.

Don't look for Chad Everett's "McKenna" tonight (or, maybe, any night again) on ABC. The network yanked it from the schedule after just two outings. It will be replaced with the evergreen/ever-gray "Matlock" starting next Thursday.

Replacing "McKenna" tonight at 9 on WJZ (Channel 13) is a special, "Billy Ray Cyrus: A year on the Road." ABC says "McKenna" is on hiatus and will return someday in a new time period. Don't hold your breath.

The really big network move tonight, though, involves a time change. CBS moves its highly publicized doctor drama, "Chicago Hope," from 10 p.m. to 9 p.m. on WBAL (Channel 11) in hopes of saving it from NBC's doctor drama, the ratings-hot "ER."

Scheduling two doctor dramas opposite each other was criticized as stupid programming from most critics. But it took a couple of weeks of "ER" in the top 10 Nielsen ratings before CBS brass got the message. "Chicago Hope" has placed 59th last week and 62nd for its premiere.

"Eye to Eye With Connie Chung" will move into the 10 o'clock spot tonight. Because newsmagazines are so much cheaper to produce than dramas, CBS can finish third with Chung at 10 p.m. and still make millions of dollars this year. And it will finish third, behind "ER" and ABC's "PrimeTime Live."

As for "Chicago Hope," it gets to go up against NBC's "Seinfeld" at 9. What a deal.

NBC's Thursday night lineup is the story of the fall season. The network has three new shows from its schedule in the Nielsen Top 20 -- "Friends," "Madman of the People" and "ER." Each owes its fast start to the ratings power of "Seinfeld" and "Mad About You."

In fact, even though Dabney Coleman's "Madman" finished 10th last week, out of all 95 prime-time shows, the jury is still out on whether it will last. The reason for the uncertainty is that it's not holding enough of its huge lead-in from "Seinfeld."

Last week, "Seinfeld" gave it a lead-in of about 32 million viewers, but "Madman" held only about 23 million. NBC's audience inched up to 24 million at 10 when "Madman" ended and "ER" came on, even though fewer people overall were watching TV from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.

The industry's rule of thumb is that a series needs to hold at least 80 percent of its lead-in in order to survive. Last week, "Madman" held only 71 percent, which puts it near where Tom Arnold's "Jackie Thomas Show" and Jackie Mason's "Chicken Soup" were when ABC scheduled them after "Roseanne."

"Friends," on the other hand, held 94 percent of the lead-in it received from "Mad About You," and is considered a ratings winner. It finished 19th among all shows.

Overall, ABC is the season's big gest winner so far, averaging a 12.4 rating in prime time.

ABC's biggest single victory is the savvy scheduling of "Home Improvement" on Tuesdays to take some of the buzz out of NBC's "Frasier." Tim Allen & Co. again finished first among all shows last week.

The network's most successful new show is "Me and the Boys," which finished 14th and actually improved on the lead-in from "Full House" on Tuesday nights.

The network's most vexing concern is finding an audience for its critically acclaimed "My So-Called Life," a 10 o'clock show being forced to play at 8 on Thursday nights because of all the newsmagazines ABC has. The series got a tryout Tuesday at 10 this week, but next week "NYPD Blue" reclaims that spot.

The fall has also been good to NBC, finishing in second place with a 12.2 rating, mainly thanks to Thursdays.

The network's big bomb so far has been "The Martin Short Show," which was yanked after two airings and placed on hiatus. NBC says it wants to bring the show back.

Ultimately, Short might only finish second in NBC's big-bomb category. Gene Wilder's "Something Wilder" debuted Saturday to awful reviews and finished 91 out of 95 shows.

The prime losers so far are Fox and CBS. Fox has already !B canceled "Fortune Hunter" and placed "Wild Oats" on hiatus after the two series were mired in the bottom five.

No sooner did they disappear when "Party of Five" and "M.A.N.T.I.S" filled their shoes -- tying for the lowly rank of 93rd. Furthermore, moving "The Simpsons" to Sunday has hurt that series. It finished 67th last week. It regularly finished in the top 30 last season.

The news is even worse for CBS. Last year's top-rated network is in third place, with an 11.7 rating. Worse, it's in fourth place with 18- to-49-year-old viewers -- TV's most sought-after demographic group.

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