- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2006

ABC benches ‘Chief’

“Commander in Chief” is in trouble.

The White House drama starring Geena Davis as the first female president started out as the most talked-about new show of the season with healthy ratings and a wide-open future. But last weekend ABC decided to take the show off the air until spring to make way for a new comedy, “Sons & Daughters,” reports Foxnews.com, citing a story from the New York Post.

The information was buried in a news release announcing the start of the new comedy.

“‘Commander in Chief’ will go on a brief broadcast hiatus so that it can return in the spring with all original episodes,” the release said.

ABC did something similar last year when it put “Boston Legal” on the shelf for a while and replaced it with “Grey’s Anatomy.” “Grey’s” was such a hit that “Boston Legal” did not return for the rest of the season.

The White House series will be off the air for at least six weeks, the network said.

Ratings for “Chief” have been in a free-fall ever since it came back this month after a long holiday break. Airing opposite “American Idol” — a huge hit in its fifth edition — has been especially tough. Last week, “Chief” drew barely 10 million people, its lowest audience ever. The show premiered last September with an audience of over 16 million.

The hiatus comes at the start of the February sweeps, one of the year’s three pivotal ratings periods used to determine advertising costs for network programming.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed in ‘Commander’ ticking down the last few weeks,” ABC’s top program exec Stephen McPherson told reporters last week, before the announcement that the show was going off the air for a while.

“I think being off for so long … has hurt it,” he said.

“Chief” has changed — more or less dramatically — after ABC pulled creator Rod Lurie off the series and put in veteran cop-show producer Stephen Bochco to run the ship. Its main villain, Speaker of the House Nathan Templeton, played by Donald Sutherland, has been softened. And Miss Davis’ on-screen husband, first gentleman Rod Calloway (actor Kyle Secor), has been toned down to become more of an adviser than a loose-cannon spouse.

‘Idol’ rules the roost

Fox’s one-two “Idol” punch commanded the ratings race last week, keeping CBS from dominating the Nielsen charts as it had before the return of the hit singing competition.

The Jan. 24 and Jan. 25 “Idol” broadcasts claimed the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, with a trio of CBS shows — including two from the “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” franchise — coming in third, fourth and fifth place, Associated Press reports.

For the week of Jan. 22 through 29, the top five shows and their networks were: 1) “American Idol,” Tuesday (Fox); 2) “American Idol,” Wednesday (Fox); 3) “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (CBS); 4) “Without a Trace” (CBS) ; and 5) “CSI: Miami” (CBS).

‘Smiths’ reborn

Last summer’s hit film “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” gave us thrills, chills and the two-headed media monster known as Brangelina.

Now, the movie has spawned a television series, reports Reuters news agency.

ABC is developing a drama based on the film, which starred Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as a married pair of superspies who don’t know the other’s occupation.

The network has ordered a pilot, which the film’s director, Doug Liman, is expected to shoot, subject to availability. The pilot may be ready for midseason 2006 through 2007 or fall 2007 consideration.

“Mr. & Mrs. Smith” earned more than $186 million at the North American box office last summer and sparked a real-life romance between its two leads.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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