Sharing the Wealth
It’s the game show that keeps on giving: Who Wants to Be a Millionaire not only provided ABC with a February sweeps win — it took up 18 percent of the schedule — but it even injected some growth hormones into the competition. Four of this season’s most watched episodes of Fox’s The X-Files and UPN’s Smackdown! have aired in head-to-head competition with Reege, and CBS’ JAG earned its best-ever adults 18-49 performance against an hour-long Millionaire on Feb. 15. ”Basically more people are tuning in,” says media analyst Bill Croasdale. ”They’re tuning into Millionaire and are then saying, ‘Let’s see what’s on other channels,’ and getting wrapped up in JAG’s story line.” A CBS exec has another theory on the success of that Australian-based JAG episode: ”Catherine Bell in a bikini didn’t hurt.”
When ABC announced that Kevin Smith’s ”midseason” animated sitcom based on his feature, Clerks, wouldn’t debut until May 31, the filmmaker didn’t play Silent Bob — he took out his frustration on his The View Askewniverse website. (See: ”How we got f—ed by ABC. Hard.”) Now Smith tells EW that he regrets taking ABC’s six-episode commitment: ”It just burns my ass because we had other places we could have gone. UPN offered us 13 episodes on the air.” ABC defends the shuffle, pointing to the summer success of Millionaire, but Smith isn’t satisfied. ”I’ve discussed [with Clerks’ production company Miramax] the possibility of buying it back and releasing it as a feature,” he says. ”The idea of taking a movie and turning it into a cartoon that never airs on TV but instead [becomes a] movie — that’d be trippy.”
As soap operas continue to lose their suds — ABC and CBS are averaging a seven percent drop among women 18-54, while NBC is down a whopping 16 percent — demo leader ABC is scrambling to make sure its daytime bubble doesn’t burst. Hoping to assuage fans who are tired of waiting eons for story lines to climax (One Life to Live viewers have yet to learn who knocked up Nora Buchanan two years ago), the net is taking a page from Mexican telenovelas, which resolve plots within two to three months before firing up again with new actors and stories. The near-instant-gratification operation begins this year on Port Charles; a team of writers will write four-week story arcs featuring guest stars and new faces who’ll be integrated among the vets. ”It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey,” says ABC’s head of daytime, Angela Shapiro. ”Still, we need to come up with [quicker] stories that have a beginning, middle, and end.” Just think how many more husbands Erica Kane can score.