The latest news from the TV beat

By Joe Flint
June 19, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

A BITTER PILL Every season has a martyred series. And this year, as CBS Corp. president and COO Mel Karmazin found out firsthand, that show is Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Karmazin recently fielded a barrage of phone calls from fans upset that the Eye had canned the Saturday-night drama. “They were all so nice,” Karmazin later told his CBS colleagues.

Maybe so, but in the TV business, nice guys finish last. ”Madison Avenue killed Dr. Quinn,” says one CBS insider, citing advertiser disdain for Dr. Quinn‘s predominantly rural audience as the main reason the show (hardly a ratings flop) got the boot.

That may be a bit of an overstatement, but not by much. The fact is that the 51st-ranked Dr. Quinn earned fewer ad dollars than shows with much smaller audiences. For example, a 30-second spot on Quinn last season went for about $120,000, while an ad on, say, Fox’s Melrose Place (No. 80) cost at least $140,000.

The difference is Melrose attracts the younger, more urban viewers coveted by advertisers. Not only did Quinn not perform in key markets like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, it was also a very expensive show to produce, costing more than $1 million per episode.

Of course, those numbers won’t silence hardcore Quinn fans, whose Saturday night will now be filled with such male-dominated fare as Walker, Texas Ranger and the new Martial Law. “America’s night of television has become America’s night of testosterone,” says Rhonda Payne, spokesperson for the Revive Dr. Quinn campaign, which clearly has its work cut out for it.

SYNERGY CRISIS Now that a handful of companies control all media, the TV industry is fast becoming a confusing place. On the one hand, the Big Four fear losing viewers to cable; on the other hand, they’re developing and promoting their own cable channels.

Take NBC, for example: During its coverage of the NBA finals, the Peacock has heavily hyped sister cable net CNBC (which carries extended postgame shows), much to the chagrin of NBC network affiliates eager to keep viewers tuned to their channel after the game.

Meanwhile, ABC wants to launch an all-soap opera channel to capture those nine-to-fivers who still have not mastered the art of VCR taping. Starting next month, the All My Soaps network rolls out on cable systems in Chicago and Houston—it’ll rerun the same day’s episodes of All My Children, One Life to Live, and General Hospital during prime time. Cable systems in Charlotte, N.C., will run the soaps on a one-week delay. “We understand why they want to replay programming,” says Alan Bell, president of Freedom Broadcasting, whose ABC affiliates might lose viewers to the net’s new outlet. “But if they’re going to do it, we want a piece of the action.”

“The issue for the nets is combined market share,” says Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. media analyst Tom Wolzien, referring to the Big Four’s attempt to reach as many viewers as possible via as many outlets as it takes. “We all look at the networks and say their biz is hurting, but add ESPN to ABC and they’re not hurting at all.”

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