- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2002

ABC, the nation's most-watched television network two years ago, has fired top executives and pulled once-popular shows off the air in a bid to lift its dismal ratings this season.
The network's prime-time ratings have dropped 22 percent since September after new shows failed to catch on with viewers and older shows were moved to new time slots.
"We know we have a lot of work to do," ABC entertainment Chairman Lloyd Braun told reporters last week.
Last week, the network fired Stu Bloomberg, its longtime creative executive and Mr. Braun's co-chairman. It also ousted comedy series chief Julie Glucksman after five months on the job.
Replacing Mr. Bloomberg is Susan Lyne, the former head of ABC's made-for-TV movie division. She has vowed to develop new shows that "surprise people [and] make noise," while also embracing family friendly fare that fits with ABC's corporate parent, the Walt Disney Co.
The network will begin its attempt at a comeback tonight when it debuts "The Chair," a quiz show developed during Mr. Bloomberg's tenure, but critics doubt it will succeed.
The show features contestants who are strapped to a chair and zapped with electronic stimuli while they answer questions. Critics have called "The Chair" and a similar series that airs on Fox desperate ratings stunts.
"It is a gimmick. This will not be the long-term formula for success for ABC," said Roy Rothstein, vice president and director of national broadcast research for Zenith Media and a former ABC research executive.
ABC and Fox are battling each other for third place behind NBC and CBS this season, which concludes in May. If Fox finishes third, it will be the first time it has beaten one of the original "Big Three" broadcasters for an entire season.
ABC has an average 6.9 rating and 11 share this season, which began Sept. 24. CBS has an 8.2 rating and a 13 share, NBC has a 7.9 rating and a 13 share and Fox has a 6.1 rating and a 10 share, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Each ratings point represents about 1 million households. A share is the percentage of viewers watching television at any given time.
Low ratings mean ABC is forced to give advertisers free airtime because it has not delivered the audience it promised them.
Competing networks benefit because advertisers have more money to spend with them, said Tom Wolzien, media analyst for New York research and investment firm Sanford C. Bernstein.
Disney counts on ABC and the Disney theme parks to provide its two main revenue streams. Both are suffering and will probably not rebound until 2003, analysts say.
ABC rode to the top of the ratings two seasons ago with quiz show "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire."
But analysts say it relied too heavily on the show, expanding it to four nights a week last season. When the show's ratings fell, ABC's entire schedule suffered.
This season, the network traditionally the home of family sitcoms like "Happy Days" and "Home Improvement" introduced shows designed to capture the young, urban viewers who watch shows like "Friends" on NBC.
The plan failed. Most of the new shows were cancelled, including the Jason Alexander sitcom "Bob Patterson," which aired five episodes before it was pulled.
The network also shuffled older shows around the schedule. It moved popular newsmagazine "20/20" to Wednesdays from Fridays, where it had aired since 1987, and pushed "NYPD Blue" to an earlier time slot on Tuesdays.
"Once and Again," a critical favorite, was bounced from Mondays to Fridays.
"The Chair" will replace fading sitcoms "Dharma & Greg" and "Spin City" on ABC's Tuesday night schedule, marking the first time the network has not had sitcoms on Tuesday since "Happy Days" debuted Jan. 15, 1974.
Sitcoms will continue to be part of ABC's future, Miss Lyne said.
Two new family sitcoms with modest ratings, "My Wife and Kids" and "According to Jim," will return next season, she said.
ABC had planned to debut "The Chair" later this year, but decided to rush the series on the air tonight after a similarly themed series premiered Sunday on Fox.
The networks are suing each other over the shows. ABC claims Fox violated copyright-infringement laws by copying its show, while Fox has accused ABC of trying to steal information about its show.

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