Troubled ABC yanks 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' off fall schedule

Posted: Thursday, May 16, 2002

NEW YORK -- Once the hottest thing on TV, ''Who Wants to Be a Millionaire'' is now down to its final lifeline.

The Emmy-winning quiz show and former ratings killer was left off ABC's fall schedule as the struggling network tries to reinvent itself by adding seven new series.

All of the networks are unveiling their fall schedules to advertisers this week. ABC's plans are probably the most scrutinized since the network sank to third place last season behind NBC and CBS, and fourth place in its target demographic of 18-to-49-year-old viewers.

ABC is making changes on every weeknight, and will air family-friendly programs for the hour starting at 8 p.m. on Monday through Friday, according to network executives.

Susan Lyne, ABC entertainment president, said the network sees an opportunity to begin to rebound following a 23 percent drop in viewership this season.

ABC's new fare includes a weekly series stemming from the ''Dinotopia'' miniseries; a comedy starring John Ritter as the father of two teen-age daughters; and a drama developed by Ben Affleck that gives viewers a chance to win money.

''The core goal for us is to stop the downward trend in our ratings,'' Lyne said Tuesday. ''We need to stabilize and move the needle a little upwards. Nobody is expecting us to jump into first place next year.''

ABC apologized to advertisers on Tuesday for shuffling its lineup so much. ''Our schedule changed so often this year that even I couldn't keep up,'' Lyne admitted.

The dramatic drop in ratings this year for ''Who Wants to Be a Millionaire'' -- and ABC's failure to anticipate the erosion -- were the key to the network's decline.

Regis Philbin and ''Million-aire'' will return in special events, probably running several nights in a row, much like how the show started two years ago. Its executive producer, Michael Davies, had requested this approach.

The fading ''Drew Carey Show'' will shift to Mondays at 8 p.m. Two long-running comedies, ''Spin City'' and ''Dharma and Greg,'' were canceled, along with the drama ''Philly.''

When football goes off the air in winter, ABC will launch a remake of the series ''Dragnet'' on Monday nights.

Meanwhile, the WB network said it will add two new dramas and four new comedies in the fall, and will begin airing regular reruns for three hours on Sundays.

ABC and the WB have something in common on their new schedules. Both have shows with the same premise: A thirtysomething man time-travels back to high school in the 1980s. ABC's entry is called ''That Was Then,'' and the WB's is ''Do Over.''

After successfully remaking the ''Superman'' story for a new generation with ''Smallville,'' the WB is doing a new version of the comedy ''Family Affair,'' starring Tim Curry as the butler. It is also starting a second-generation ''Batman'' saga with three crime-fighting women, called ''Birds of Prey.''

The WB also is moving its established dramas, ''Charmed'' and ''Angel,'' to Sunday nights. Starting at 5 p.m. on Sundays -- a new hour for networks -- it will offer reruns of ''Smallville,'' the new show ''Everwood'' and ''Gilmore Girls.'' Executives said the network's primary audience of teen-age girls is underserved by television in those hours.

The WB series ''Felicity'' is ending this month, and ''The Steve Harvey Show'' was canceled.

Besides ''That Was Then,'' ABC's new series are:

''8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,'' starring Ritter and Katey Sagal in the comedy focusing on Ritter's relationship with his daughters.

''Dinotopia,'' a fantasy that extends the concept of dinosaurs and humans living together.

''Less Than Perfect,'' a workplace comedy set at a TV network. Andy Dick, who once starred in a workplace comedy set at a radio station (''NewsRadio''), is in the cast.

''Life with Bonnie,'' a family comedy starring Bonnie Hunt as a local TV host.

''Meds,'' a one-hour drama featuring renegade doctors trying to undercut the frugal HMO that runs their San Francisco hospital. ABC compares its mix of comedy and drama to ''M-A-S-H.''

''Push, Nevada,'' a drama the network compares to ''Twin Peaks.'' Developed by Affleck, it offers clues to a puzzle that viewers can solve to win money.

Other new WB series:

''Everwood,'' a drama about a neurosurgeon who leaves New York City to set up a general practice in a small Colorado town.

''What I Like About You,'' a comedy that stars ''Beverly Hills 90210'' actress Jennie Garth as one of two sisters living together in New York City.

''Greetings From Tucson,'' a comedy about a Mexican-American husband and Irish-American wife, seen through the eyes of their 15-year-old son.

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