EXIT THE QUEEN
Now that Julianna Margulies has turned down the opportunity to become the richest woman on TV, the next question is how ER will send her packing. A spokeswoman for Margulies, who rejected $27 million over four years (a deal insiders describe as similiar in scope to those accepted by Noah Wyle and Eriq La Salle), said she’s on board for the rest of the season. But one exec close to the No. 1 drama reveals there’s been discussion about whether to have her leave the same way George Clooney did, during February sweeps: ”That way you don’t give people an opportunity to not come back in the fall. You want them to stay invested.”
No luck of the Irish for NBC. The dismal performance of Robert Halmi Sr.’s The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns (which averaged 14.1 million viewers over two nights) not only destroyed any hope of a sweeps-week win for the net, it also threatens the status of Halmi’s next epic, the 10-hour The 10th Kingdom, originally slated for February sweeps. In fact, some are wondering if the entire genre is kaput.
It’s not as if fantasy hasn’t worked for NBC. In May ’98, Merlin‘s astounding numbers helped the Peacock to a sweeps win. But Merlin is a familiar story—or, as the telefilm folk like to call it, a pre-sold concept—and Kingdom (a convoluted tale of a modern-day woman transported to a mystical land via a magic mirror) most definitely is not. ”You can’t make decisions based on genres,” argues Lindy DeKoven, NBC’s executive VP of movies and miniseries. ”When I first came here, the prevailing wisdom was no classics, no period pieces, no musicals. Then came Gulliver’s Travels, The Odyssey, and The Temptations, which totally destroyed those theories. There’s no formula. No one has a recipe.”
Still, a 10-hour miniseries on anything is a risk, especially when ABC is likely to parry with everyone’s fantasy show of choice, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. NBC could relegate Kingdom to another, less competitive month, say March or April, but DeKoven’s not ready to rule out February. ”It’s a brave thing if it works,” says an exec at a rival net, ”but they’re probably concerned about viewer drop-off and the possible commitment to five nights of failures.” Well, yeah.
IT’S A GIRL THING
Not so long ago, ABC was worrying that NYPD Blue would be female-repellent in its old Tuesday slot. That they worried about adult women at all was thanks to CBS’ surprise hit Judging Amy. So Blue got temporarily shelved and the Alphabet counterprogrammed with its own ode to X-chromosome maturity, Once and Again. What a difference a few weeks makes: With Once now clearly struggling against time-slot winner Amy (the latter regularly outranks the ABC drama among total viewers and women 25-54), Blue—with its competitive average of a 19 share among women 18-49 (versus Amy‘s 16)—is looking like a veritable chick magnet. To insure that Steven Bochco‘s seven-year-old drama not only holds on to its female fans but attracts more, the Jan. 11 premiere will begin with a multi-episode arc involving Det. Diane Russell (Kim Delaney) and Det. Jill Kirkendall (Andrea Thompson), whose ex-husband returns to wreak havoc. If that doesn’t lure the ladies, there’s also a new hunk, Henry Simmons (Above the Rim), who will partner with Det. Greg Medavoy (Gordon Clapp) by episode 7. Says Dayna Kalins, president of Steven Bochco Productions, ”It’s silly to count us out with women.”