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Here's why ABC has been dumb about ''NYPD Blue''

Ken Tucker explains how the network can save face and appease Steven Bochco at the same time

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Here’s why ABC has been dumb about ”NYPD Blue”

It’s always fun to watch a TV network screw up — like any big business, its lofty arrogance makes one yearn to see it slip on a policy banana peel — but when the goof involves two good shows, the pratfall isn’t quite so funny. ABC has managed to do a grave disservice to two of its best shows: the new ”Once and Again,” which stars Sela Ward and Billy Campbell as suburban lovebirds, and ”NYPD Blue,” after six seasons not necessarily at the peak of its power, but one of television’s finest nonetheless.

Last week, ABC let slip it was thinking of leaving ”Once and Again” in ”NYPD”’s Tuesdays-at-10 p.m. time period permanently, instead of moving it elsewhere, to allow ”NYPD” to make its usual November-sweeps season premiere. The reasoning is that ”Once and Again” is doing pretty well now, but it’s at a fragile stage of its development, and the last thing ABC wants to do is blow it for ”O and A” creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, the way the network did with Herskovitz and Zwick’s ”My So-Called Life” five years ago. ”NYPD,” in this argument, is a show with a following, and will survive a new time period, taking its audience to a new night.

Sound smart? Nope. Here’s why: Same night, same time, CBS has premiered ”Judging Amy,” (starring ”NYPD Blue” alum Amy Brenneman as a smart but sensitive judge) and from its second week on, it has cleaned ”Once and Again”’s clock in the ratings. It’s clear that both ”Amy” and ”O and A” attract heavily female audiences, and ”Amy” is attracting more of them. So why leave ”O and A” in a place where it’ll be a perennial also-ran? Why not return ”NYPD” to its well-won place, where it will attract more male viewers and provide better competition?

Hey, given the choice, I’d rather watch ”Once and Again” — it’s the fresher, more inventive show at this point. After football season ends, why not move it to Mondays at 10, instead of showing lame-o movies, as ABC now plans? Or why not move it to Sundays at 9, where it’ll lead into the excellent ”The Practice,” and may get some channel-switching viewers who’ve just finished CBS’ ”Touched by an Angel” at 8? I know, ”Snoops” is doing surprisingly well there and ABC doesn’t want to rile its creator, David E. Kelley, but the way it stands now, ABC has riled the equally creative producers of the other two shows. Herskovitz and Zwick need assurance that ”Once and Again” will be nurtured. ”NYPD”’s Steven Bochco is downright furious, and has even asked ABC to cancel his show, so he can shop it around (NBC has already said it’s interested).

The irony is, ABC wouldn’t even be in this pickle if it hadn’t revealed its plan so needlessly early and publicly. Now it has Bochco fuming and every two-bit prognosticator like me giving the network unwanted advice. Like I said, if this were an argument about where to shift ”Two Guys and A Girl” or ”Odd Man Out,” no one would care. But mess around with one of the few good new shows and one of TV’s most beloved dramas, and you’re asking for a peck of trouble.