Tuesday, September 24, 2002
Comic Jimmy Kimmel, ABCï¿½s anointed late-night answer to David Letterman and Jay Leno, stood before a packed house of advertisers in New York, trying to help the network win their dollars.
Squeezed into the orchestra section on that May afternoon were executives from Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC. Among them: Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Eisner.
Taking aim, Kimmel noted that not only had the bosses given him a program but they also were reviving the old cop show ï¿½Dragnet.ï¿½
ï¿½This is the plan to resurrect the network? ï¿½Dragnetï¿½ and me?ï¿½ he asked. ï¿½Are you guys trying to get fired? Youï¿½ll be out scalping tickets to ï¿½The Lion King.ï¿½ï¿½
Sure, Kimmel was joking, but not everyone in the room was laughing.
Rarely has a single season meant so much to a company and its top executives. Televisionï¿½s cliffhanger drama this season, which officially begins Monday, isnï¿½t whether President Josiah Bartlet is re-elected on NBCï¿½s ï¿½The West Wingï¿½ but whether Eisner and his crew can break ABCï¿½s fall.
ï¿½Obviously,ï¿½ Disney President Robert Iger said, ï¿½this is a huge priority for the company.ï¿½
Last year, ABCï¿½s prime-time ratings tumbled more than 20 percent. The network finished a distant third to NBC and CBS, and it came in fourth among viewers ages 18 to 49, the group most coveted by advertisers. Ratings eroded so badly that the network finished the season with only one top-20 show, ï¿½Monday Night Football.ï¿½ Programming chief Stu Bloomberg was sacked.
Plot lines have changed, scripts have been rewritten. ï¿½The Drew Carey Showï¿½ has been told to develop deeper relationships between the characters and dump some of the stunts. ABC executives have jumped in to help producers of the new medical drama ï¿½MDsï¿½ strike a lighter tone.
Eisner, keenly aware of the importance of the networkï¿½s greatest hope for ratings success ï¿½ ï¿½8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughterï¿½ ï¿½ sent a note to the producers recommending that a scene be shortened. It was.
John Ritter, the showï¿½s star and a veteran of previous ABC regimes, knows the brass is counting on him. ï¿½Michael Eisner is in my dressing room right now, waiting to give me a deep tissue massage,ï¿½ Ritter deadpanned during a break in shooting Friday.
Other new shows on the ABC fall lineup include ï¿½Push, Nevada,ï¿½ ï¿½Life with Bonnie,ï¿½ ï¿½MDs,ï¿½ ï¿½That Was Thenï¿½ and ï¿½Less Than Perfect.ï¿½
Then thereï¿½s ï¿½Dinotopia,ï¿½ a computer animated/live action prehistoric drama that costs $3 million per episode. ABC executives recently leaned on the producers to make the show more hip by creating Le Sage, a sexy, evil flirt.
ï¿½Iï¿½m too old for this kind of stuff,ï¿½ sighed ï¿½Dinotopiaï¿½ producer Robert Halmi Sr., 78. ï¿½But it doesnï¿½t hurt the series.ï¿½