ABC Cancels First Two Shows of Fall TV Season
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Suffering the first prime-time casualties of the fledgling fall television season, struggling ABC has canceled two new shows: time travel drama "That Was Then" and quirky interactive mystery "Push, Nevada."
The Walt Disney Co.-owned broadcaster, fighting to shake off the worst ratings slump of any network in recent years, announced the cancellations Thursday, saying both shows failed to draw big enough audiences to keep them on the air.
"Push, Nevada," a heavily promoted series from actor Ben Affleck's production company, has taken a beating in the ratings against stiff competition Thursday nights from TV's top-rated drama, "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," on CBS.
The show, about an Internal Revenue Service agent searching for lost treasure, may ultimately have been a victim of its own surrealistic, "Twin Peaks"-like style, which left many viewers scratching their heads during its first four episodes.
But because of a play-at-home element offering viewers the chance to win more than $1 million by following clues to the mystery, ABC is airing three more episodes, weaving in enough additional tips to allow someone to claim the prize money.
"That Was Then," about a man who travels back in time to his high school days, is being dumped immediately after just two broadcasts, to be replaced this Friday and for the next two weeks by extra editions of "America's Funniest Home Videos."
The cancellations, though not so unusual just 2 1/2 weeks into the season, pose fresh challenges to ABC is it struggles to find its footing, forcing the network to juggle shows while trying to familiarize viewers with its prime-time lineup.
Starting Nov. 8, ABC's popular sitcom "The Drew Carey Show" and his improvisational comedy series "Whose Line Is It Anyway" will move to the Friday night 9 o'clock hour from their current slots on the Monday night lineup.
After "Push, Nevada" leaves the airwaves, ABC will rerun a two-hour pilot of "Monk," the detective drama it shares with cable TV's USA Network, on Thursday Oct. 31. Then, a string of specials will run at 9 p.m. on Thursdays through November, while repeats of "Monk" move to the old "Drew Carey"/"Whose Line" berth on Mondays, starting Nov. 18.
ABC left open the possibility of bringing back six remaining episodes of "That Was Then" sometime in the future.
ABC's prime-time schedule has lagged far behind rivals NBC and CBS in the ratings since the collapse last year of one-time monster hit game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," leading to lower advertising revenues and losses at the network.
Network parent Walt Disney Co. and its chief Michael Eisner are under intense pressure to turn around ABC's fortunes in order to boost the company's overall net profits.
ABC has managed some successes in its campaign to rebuild, establishing a newly competitive presence on Tuesday and Wednesday nights behind a batch of new and returning family comedies and the romantic reality series "The Bachelor."
Among the bright spots on ABC's schedule so far are the freshman sitcoms "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" and "Life with Bonnie," and the returning shows "My Wife and Kids," "George Lopez" and "According to Jim."
ABC also is making gains in "Monday Night Football" after two seasons of severe ratings erosion. And veteran cop drama "NYPD Blue" ranks as Tuesday's No. 1 drama in young adults against CBS series "JAG," "Judging Amy" and "The Guardian."
Separately, ABC said Thursday it had struck a deal with "Bachelor" executive producer Mike Fleiss to develop two more reality series for the network.