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c is for cancelled
that's good enough for abc
by michelle von euw

Lenny Clarke is working hard, harder than most television actors do in the spring. So are Denis Leary and Adam Ferrara. The three co-stars of “The Job” are calling morning DJs, guesting on national afternoon radio shows, and filming appearances on late night talk shows, frantically promoting their year-old dark comedy, hoping it will be renewed for another season. Unlike the stars of other critically acclaimed shows which have already have multi-year commitments from their networks, Clarke, Leary and Ferrara are fighting an often-uphill battle to garner the kind of ratings that will keep them on the air.

The gritty mid-season replacement has two things stacked against it: First, it shares a time slot with NBC’s drama juggernaut, “The West Wing.” Second, it's on ABC, the network most likely to cancel a good thing.

While all networks are guilty of giving new shows the heave-ho after relatively few episodes if ratings aren’t through the roof (how many times did "The Lone Gunmen" run before Fox pulled it?), and ABC isn’t the only one of the big four who has shuffled, then yanked a critically acclaimed series with a hardcore following ("Freaks and Geeks" was on NBC’s lineup), the alphabet network is more likely to commit both these errors, damaging its standing with viewers and, in some cases, talented producers and creators who should be wary of pitching smart, groundbreaking shows to ABC in the future.

Take Aaron Sorkin – his much-praised television debut, “Sports Night,” was predicted to be one of the most successful shows in the 1998 fall lineup. Witty dialogue, well-drawn characters, and a setup similar to the immensely popular ESPN “SportsCenter” characterized this upstart sitcom, which attempted to eliminate the laugh-track and was voted the top new show of the season in a critics poll. Its ratings were respectable, but not through the roof, so ABC benched it during the February and May sweeps in 1999, and seriously considered canceling it before renewing it for a second season.

Meanwhile, Sorkin’s second show premiered on NBC, which gave it strong publicity and an ideal timeslot, and “West Wing” quickly became one of the hottest and most honored shows on television…right around the time TV Guide named “Sports Night” The Best Show You’re Not Watching. (The same award had boosted ratings, and network commitment, for ABC's "The Practice" just two years before.) The recognition couldn’t save the half-hour show, however, and ABC cancelled it just weeks after the article was published. Other than their settings, the shows are very similar; Sorkin wrote both, and occasionally recycles plot twists, characteristics, and even dialogue from his ABC series on the NBC show. There’s no reason to believe that a more committed network wouldn’t have been able to make “Sports Night” work.

David Lynch, who revolutionized television with his groundbreaking series “Twin Peaks” a decade ago, planned to return to the small screen with a new drama set in Hollywood that had a very '40s noirish feel. The script for his pilot was approved by ABC, and Time magazine wrote that it would almost definitely be the gem of the Disney-owned network’s fall 1999 lineup. However, after the $7 million pilot was filmed, ABC cancelled the series before it could air.

Lynch, who had a 90-minute masterpiece on his hands, added some footage, sold it to a French company, and the resulting film -- Mulholland Drive -- debuted at Cannes, was successful in an art house run, and earned him an Academy Award nomination for best director.

The latest debacle from the Mouse studio is the cancellation of “Once and Again,” arguably the best family drama on network television, this month. The show boasted a strong pedigree (it was created by the same team responsible for “thirtysomething” and “My So-Called Life”), an Emmy and a Golden Globe for Best Actress, an extremely dedicated audience, and strong ratings during its first few months on the air. But ABC responded to the show’s success by removing it from its timeslot and putting it up against one of the only other woman-led dramas on the air. Not surprisingly, ratings fell for “Once and Again.” Over three seasons, ABC shuffled the show into seven different timeslots, pulled it from the air for weeks at a time, and left it languishing on Friday nights at 10 p.m., more or less the network dead zone. Sela Ward and company were given one final chance when ABC moved it to Monday nights – again, against a highly-rated drama with a woman star – but its short episode order suggests that the decision to cancel had already been made.

This is not a new phenomenon for the network: historically, ABC has made similar decisions. In its spring 1990 run, “ Twin Peaks” scored a 33 percent share in the Nielsen ratings, higher than “Survivor” or “Friends” or “ER” garner today. During that summer, the question on everyone's lips was "Who Killed Laura Palmer?" But just six months later, ABC put the show on hiatus, returning it only after receiving 10,000 letters, logs, and Barbies wrapped in plastic from devoted fans of the show. But “Twin Peaks” also suffered from ABC’s poor scheduling: it went from a 10 p.m. Saturday night slot to a Thursday night standoff against "Cheers," following the tame and incompatible “Father Dowling Mysteries.”

“They're determined to kill the show,” David Marans, a senior researcher for the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency told the Associated Press on March 8, 1991. And they did – ABC cancelled Twin Peaks after just 32 episodes.

Earlier this year, ABC Executive Vice President Jeff Bader told Entertainment Weekly, “Because ‘Millionaire’ was four nights of our schedule, we essentially have to replace our top four shows. That's really hard.” It’s hard to pity Bader and his colleagues: the network was so giddy after the game show’s success that they cancelled shows like “Sports Night” and “Cupid” to make room on their schedule for an overdose of Regis and his monochromatic ties.

There is hope for the Mouse network, however. When the network announces their fall lineup on May 14th, they could choose to commit to quality shows, regardless of ratings success or failure. This type of move has precedence in television: in the early 1980s, NBC executives announced that they would remain committed to shows that they believed were solid and just needed time to build an audience. So they renewed "Hill Street Blues," "Cheers," and "Family Ties," which then led to the birth of Must See TV and a decade-long domination of Thursday night ratings.

Will ABC make a similar decision? Unfortunately, the recent success of “The Bachelor,” a show where women competed to garner an engagement ring from a successful man, suggests not. The reality show’s high ratings will probably encourage the network to schedule more sensational trash television instead of taking the higher road. And once and again, it will be the viewer left holding the remote.


Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

more about michelle von euw


write now
why the strike that hurts tv hurts us
by michelle von euw
topic: television
published: 11.12.07

the bland taste of seasoning
why the networks lose out to cable
by michelle von euw
topic: television
published: 9.8.03


matt morin
5.8.02 @ 12:15a

Don't bash The Bachelor. That was great TV. Ok...maybe just good TV.

jael mchenry
5.8.02 @ 9:37a

or maybe soul-killing, morally bankrupt TV embodying many of the worst traits of both those who make TV and those who watch it.

"Cupid." That was a show. Dammit.

adam kraemer
5.8.02 @ 10:49a

Who played Jeremy Piven's friends? I seem to remember a really attractive woman. 'Course I could be thinking about "Snoops."

mike julianelle
5.8.02 @ 10:51a

Same chick as was on Snoops, Adam. What, Paula Marshall? Cutie-pie, hasn't done much. Didn't she play Jeremy's porn-star girlfriend on season 2 of Sports Night? That was a stretch for her I think, but she's still cute.

jael mchenry
5.8.02 @ 10:53a

Paula Marshall. She was adorable. Yeah, I didn't quite buy her in the porn star role either.

I think she was his shrink.

adam kraemer
5.8.02 @ 10:57a

Paula Marshall is adorable. I rate her right up there with Rena Sofer (best looking Jew on TV right now). Most recent thing I saw Ms. Marshall in was "Just Shoot Me" - she's Nina's daughter.

mike julianelle
5.8.02 @ 11:07a

I never watch Just Shoot Me, but the one with David Cross as Donnie the retard is hilarious! David Cross rules, Mr. Show RULES!!!

I first swa Rena Sofer on General Hospital in the early 90s, watched that show for a few week stretch after school one year, loved her immediately. She looked a bit like Demi Moore (who?) back then...

She had a bit part in Heat. And I mean BIT PART. She is a looker tho.

adam kraemer
5.8.02 @ 11:20a

She was the only funny thing about that show where the gay guy leaves his wife to move in with his two best friends. No idea what it was called, but she was by far the brightest spot in that time slot.

michelle von euw
5.8.02 @ 12:21p

I never watch Just Shoot Me, but the one with David Cross as Donnie the retard is hilarious! David Cross rules, Mr. Show RULES!!!

Mike, I can't believe someone else shares my bizarre love for that one episode of a bad show.

Chicken Pot, Chicken Pot, Chicken Pot Pie!

tracey kelley
5.8.02 @ 12:35p

I can't remember if it was on ABC or not, but I sincerely miss WKRP in Cinncinati. That show completely changed my life and I missed it horribly when it went off the air.

I watched reruns of it on Nick at Nite about 2 years ago, and laughed so hard I cried most of the time. After being in broadcasting, it was all so much more real -and true- than ever before.

"As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."

I. Loved. Once and Again. Then again, I loved Sisters and thirtysomething, too. But I didn't get to watch OAA very often, because I never kept up with when it moved.

HBO does a good job keeping shows on. That channel alone is almost worth the price of cable.


russ carr
5.8.02 @ 12:54p

Chicken Pot, Chicken Pot, Chicken Pot Pie!

Kathy has been known to walk around the house singing that line.

WKRP was on CBS, Tracey, but I know exactly what you mean about the parallels to real life. I spent a couple of summers being Les Nessman at a local AM station. Whoever wrote that show did his homework.

jael mchenry
5.8.02 @ 1:07p

Russ with a semi-fro and bad plaid jackets? I shudder.

Rena Sofer is well-nigh ubiquitous. She was in Keeping the Faith, did a few weeks on Ed, and I think she's on that Sci Fi series "The Chronicle" with Bert Viola as a pig-man.

mike julianelle
5.8.02 @ 1:14p

Yeah, she's all over the place.

Michelle, that episode is hilarious, due to David Cross. I'm telling you, Mr. Show DVDs June 11. BUY THEM. Best (American) skit show EVER. EVER. I don't really know much Python, but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt, but Mr. Show is the best I've ever seen.

russ carr
5.8.02 @ 1:21p

with Bert Viola as a pig-man.

Booger's got a TV show? Again?! I saw Alyce Beasley (Ms DiPesto) on something not too long ago...but I think it was just a commercial.

No 'fro for me. But I rode to all the news stories on my 10-speed. Best shape of my life, that first summer.

sloan bayles
5.8.02 @ 10:53p

It is a sad commentary from Mr. Eisner that a show like "Once and Again" isn't worthy of staying on the air, so we can watch 25 gold digging, superficial females who obviously have no self-esteem, vye (sp?)for a self absorbed, egotistical bachelor. Once and Again rocked. Looks like these days it's all about "M-I-C... pass the C-notes please...K-E-Y...why, because we rule the air time...M-O-N-E-Y".

sloan bayles
5.8.02 @ 10:59p

P.S. Loved "Cupid" too. It was my 1st introduction to Jeremy Piven. I think he's great. It makes sense for him and John Cusack to be best friends. "Serendipity" is worth watching just to see their scenes together.


michelle von euw
5.9.02 @ 9:09a

Thanks, Sloan. I agree -- John Cusack and Jeremy Piven have a chemistry that's fun to watch. (My favorite Piven cameo is actually in Singles...his scene is like, one minute, but it's hysterical).

Mike, I'll have to check out that DVD. David Cross is hysterical...I laughed for months just remembering his character on JSM.

Russ, I can't believe Kathy also sings that around the house -- we'll have to do a duet in June.

mike julianelle
5.9.02 @ 9:18a

Michelle, that cameo in Singles is SO funny. He is out of his mind! Piven rules. Need I reiterate again the brilliance of Grosse Pointe Blank? Or should I just let Jael do it? Piven is great in that too! TEN FUCKING YEARS!!!!

jael mchenry
5.9.02 @ 9:20a

Ten yeeeeeeeears, TEN! Years!

Watched The Grifters earlier this week and Piven even has a bit of a cameo in that. Good to know Cusack's always looking out for his buddy.

adam kraemer
5.9.02 @ 10:00a

Hell, Piven was in One Crazy Summer.

'Course so was Curtis Armstrong.

jael mchenry
5.9.02 @ 1:56p

Your point?

adam kraemer
5.9.02 @ 2:09p

I had a tri-fold point.

1) That Cusack and Piven have been in the same movie going back even that early in their respective careers.

2) That I could once again create a cyclical conversation by referencing the giant of the cinema who is both Booger and Viola.

3) That I know Curtis Armstrong's name.

mike julianelle
5.9.02 @ 4:03p

Adam, it has been proven before that you know Curtis Armstrong's name, and that is nothing to be proud of, since not only does that guy suck (badly), but it simultaneously proves that you have WAY to much time on your hands and not enough of your hands on Kelly.

And you did not CREATE a cyclical conversation, O Almighty Conversationalist, you merely closed the loop.

But we can discuss this over beers and busted teeth Saturday night.


russ carr
5.9.02 @ 4:35p

not enough of your hands on Kelly

Don't encourage him, you moron!

matt morin
5.9.02 @ 4:56p

I don't think he was encouraging him, as much as he was trying to entertain us.

russ carr
5.9.02 @ 5:03p

I know, I just wanted to take the shot.

mike julianelle
5.9.02 @ 5:07p

Matt's right. How'd I do?

matt morin
5.9.02 @ 5:17p

Well, if Adam tries Kelly again, then I'll let you know the entertainment value.

russ carr
5.9.02 @ 5:34p

If Adam tries Kelly again, then I think Mike should see what other funny-yet-doomed things he can make Adam do.

sloan bayles
5.10.02 @ 12:02a

Piven had a small role in "Say Anything" also, since we were bringing up bit parts. The best part of that movie was...c'mon, we all know..."I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or repair anything bought, sold or processed"...

michelle von euw
5.10.02 @ 9:01a

There were like sixty best parts of Say Anything. And I totally forgot that Jeremy Piven was one of the gas n' sip guys: "Dissed in the Malibu."

mike julianelle
5.10.02 @ 9:07a

Bitches, man.

jael mchenry
5.10.02 @ 9:22a

Almost all Piven's parts are bit parts. With the exception of "Cupid" (damn them again) and "P.C.U." we never get enough. In "P.C.U.", maybe too much.

michelle von euw
5.13.02 @ 9:08a

ABC did it again: The Job is no longer.

jael mchenry
5.13.02 @ 10:04a

And here's what the Washington Post says about ABC's plans: Among the new shows that ABC suits are said to be considering are a sitcom starring Bonnie Hunt as a mom and talk show host -- shades of Kathie Lee -- and a comedy starring John Ritter as a dad of teenage girls. One-hour contenders include a reality show about soldiers in Afghanistan from Jerry Bruckheimer, an interactive mystery series from Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, a drama about a father-son archaeology team, another about astronauts competing to go to Mars and one about doctors fighting an HMO.

In much better news, Paula Marshall will be on NBC.

adam kraemer
5.13.02 @ 10:05a

But Boo.
I'm trying to remember if I watch anything on ABC anymore. Ummm...The Practice?

jael mchenry
5.13.02 @ 10:06a

Oh, and I forgot to mention that I hate ABC for cancelling Gideon's Crossing. Just wanted to get that in.

russ carr
5.13.02 @ 10:13a

Andre Braugher Fan Club, Jael?

jael mchenry
5.13.02 @ 10:21a

I enjoyed Andre, but more than him I enjoyed the ensemble cast of youngsters, including the stunning Rhona Mitra, that guy who played Bruce Cherry, and the incredibly funny Indian guy who's now on Jordan's Crossing, I mean Crossing Jordan (which is not as good as Gideon's, yet is making it back for a second NBC season.)

michelle von euw
5.13.02 @ 1:25p

Crossing Jordan is my TV guilty pleasure. (Although I almost ditched it after the ridiculous DA episode.)

Has David Kelley lost his touch or is it just me? I watched The Practice for the first time this season, and I knew all the plot twists before they happened.

adam kraemer
5.13.02 @ 1:26p

I haven't actually watched much this season. My guess is he's concentrating more on the end of "Ally" and the over-the-top shenanigans on "Boston Public."

jael mchenry
5.13.02 @ 1:46p

I have to keep watching Jordan for the hunky guest stars. Mmmm, Chris Noth. Mmmm, Jerry O'Connell. Which was the DA ep?

Yeah, The Practice has gone downhill. They had a chance for a second with Ron Livingston, but let him slide. Now everyone's just taking turns getting in over their heads with shady clients, and forgetting they have children.

michelle von euw
5.13.02 @ 2:58p

Jael, the DA ep was the one where Jordan had sex with a mysterious stranger, who then turned out to be the DA in case she was testifying for, and he ripped her apart on the witness stand using all sorts of sexual double entendres.

It was vile.

Fortunately, the writers seem to notice the misstep, and are focusing more on the yumminess that is Jerry O'Connell.

jael mchenry
5.14.02 @ 9:00a

Oh, that's why she has all that discomfort with the Broadway guy with the rumbly voice. Brian Stokes Mitchell. Yes?

Mmmmmm, Jerry "I'm Playing a Wholesome Cop From Wisconsin, Aw Shucks" O'Connell.

mike julianelle
5.14.02 @ 9:07a

Yeah, Jerry "Vern" O'Connell. Jerry "Sincerely" O'Connell. Jerry "Cush" O'Connell. Jerry "Whatever that stupid teen superhero show on syndicated TV was called" O'Connell. He sucks.

adam kraemer
5.14.02 @ 9:39a

My Secret Identity.

Jerry "Tomcats" O'Connell.


michelle von euw
5.14.02 @ 11:07a

I can't believe the chubby Vern grew up to be the hunky Woody.

mike julianelle
5.14.02 @ 11:59a

Sliders sucked too.

jael mchenry
5.15.02 @ 10:30a

Sliders was cool, bite your tongue. At least it was cool til Kari Wuhrer and Jerry O'Connell's not-as-good-looking brother Charlie showed up.

adam kraemer
5.15.02 @ 11:05a

Don't dis Kari. Please, for the love of God, don't dis Kari.

mike julianelle
5.15.02 @ 11:10a

Please. Kari sucks. The only good things she's ever done were her stint as a homewrecker on 90210 and her role in Beastmaster 2: Portals in Time or whatever. Never actaully seen that one, but it's about all she's got.

adam kraemer
5.15.02 @ 11:17a

I wasn't talking about her acting abilities. Jeez. But I'll admit to having watched absolute tripe because I can't take my eyes off her.

Oh, and she did a pretty decent job in Sex & The Other Man with Stanley Tucci.

jael mchenry
5.15.02 @ 3:17p

Well, this answers that question. (Not the Wuhrer question, but the ABC one.) From washingtonpost.com:

"The core goal for us is to stop the downward trend in our ratings," Lyne said Tuesday. "We need to stabilize and move the needle a little upwards. Nobody is expecting us to jump into first place next year."

russ carr
5.15.02 @ 4:20p

Kari "Showtime After Hours" Wuhrer? heh.

michelle von euw
5.16.02 @ 4:39p

ABC execs are total idiots. The "downward trend" in their ratings came because they exploited a fad. So, how do they correct that? With shows like the Bachelor 2. (spit)

tracey kelley
5.16.02 @ 5:02p

heh heh! (spit) sez 'Chelle. Careful! She's gonna swing!

russ carr
5.17.02 @ 5:35p

Found: A list of new pilots for all the networks for the 2002-03 season. Some we're aware of, some will be midseason replacements, some may never see the airwaves...

jael mchenry
5.17.02 @ 5:41p

I finally watched last week's episode of CSI last night. Guess who: Kari Wuhrer.

As a showgirl who swings, no less. 100% believable.

michelle von euw
8.15.02 @ 2:11p

Well, it looks like Lenny Clarke and Denis Leary have new jobs, at least: stars and co-producers of Comedy Central's "Project Searchlight."

adam kraemer
8.15.02 @ 5:19p

Let me guess. A showcase for stand up comedians?

jael mchenry
8.15.02 @ 5:23p

And just how much of a ripoff of Greenlight is it, anyway?

daniel castro
8.15.02 @ 8:45p

That is the reason it was created, to spoof "Project Greenlight". What they will be doing is let people come in and pitch original ideas for a show on comedy central that would not be seen on any other network. Simple as that.

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