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Regis Philbin Yanked

“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and ABC temporarily go dark over a cable rights dispute

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It was a tempest in a cable box. After months of stalled talks about the rights to transmit Disney-owned ABC, the Time Warner Cable system pulled the plug on the network May 1—in the midst of the crucial May sweeps! ABC was left without a lifeline, so 3.5 million customers in seven cities (including New York, L.A., and Houston) had to dig out rabbit ears to see the first celeb edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. By May 2, Time Warner Cable had restored ABC—at least until July 15. Disney wants Time Warner (EW’s parent company) to add the Disney Channel and two other cable stations to its basic offerings; Time Warner says Disney’s demands could cost $300 million and drive up cable rates. During the impasse, a graphics-filled screen replaced Regis Philbin, et al. Naturally, we asked EW critic Ken Tucker for a review:

The blissful blue background, the lack of voice-over, and the steady pace of the scrolling words: What an improvement over such noisy ABC fare as Dharma & Greg, The Practice, and 20/20! (The mere assurance that Barbara Walters would not pop up to scare dozing viewers probably increased public fondness for ABC.) The writing wasn’t bad either—as blunt as Drew Carey‘s buzz cut: A bold headline read ”Disney Has Taken ABC Away From You,” while folksy phrases like ”We’re not going to let Disney force our customers to ‘walk the plank”’ crawled below it. It was so soothing that older-skewing CBS is apparently considering replacing its sweeps schedule with a large-print version of the same message. B+