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Needing to relearn the ABCs

The 2001-02 season hasn't started off exactly the way ABC programmers had planned. The net is slumping in Nielsens, has already been forced to pull two shows off the air, reworked a number of nights, and is fretting as most of its veteran series, including sitcoms Dharma & Greg
and The Drew CareyShow,


While all the networks have been affected by Sept. 11, ABC appears to have been hit the hardest.

Not to mention Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. It was only a year and a half ago that ABC was riding Reege's coattails and enjoying the fruits of success that came with the quiz show's unmatchable ratings. No more, and if Millionaire
is spent, so too may be the shows it propped up last season.

"ABC really needs some help and needs to click and click quickly," says Paul Schulman of media buyer Advanswers PHD. "They have some real problems right now. They are not getting the mileage out of their returning shows with the exception of The Practice, and I don't know what else is doing what was expected. All of their strengths, all of their building blocks with the exception of The Practice
are really under-delivering."

After the first four weeks of the new season, ABC is down 22% (7.0 rating/11 share vs. 9.0/15) in households, off 20% in total viewers (10.6 million vs. 13.2 million) and another 13% in adults 18-49 (4.2/11 vs. 4.8/13), according to Nielsen Media Research (Sept. 24-Oct. 21, 2001 vs. Oct. 2-Oct. 29, 2000).

Dharma & Greg, which leads off the network's Tuesday-night lineup, is down the most. Dharma
is off 30% in households, 33% in adults 18-49 and 30% in total viewers. The Drew Carey Show
is down 29% in households and 26% in total viewers (10.5 million vs. 14.1 million), while Spin City
is down 21% in adults 18-49 and 16% in both viewers and households.

ABC has enjoyed some success with new series According to Jim
and Alias, both of which have been given full-season orders. But newcomers Bob Patterson, Thieves
and Philly
have all failed to attract large audiences and strong demographic numbers.

"You really can't help some of the things that have happened, and we really believe in the shows. We think the audience is going to come to us," says ABC Entertainment TV Group Co-Chairman Stu Bloomberg. "I think putting Bob Patterson
where it is will help it. I think giving Philly
a better lead-in is going to help that show, and I think we are going to see Thieves
improve. We believe in these shows. It would be one thing if we felt these shows were creatively bankrupt, but they are not. They are really strong."

Bloomberg and fellow ABC co-chief Lloyd Braun have been the most aggressive of the major networks in trying to alleviate problems this season, yanking sophomore comedy What About Joan?
just two weeks into the year and taking the second installment of The Mole
off the Friday schedule after three weeks. Then again, it's the network that is hurting the most.

Bloomberg says The Mole II
will likely return in the summer or possibly in the spring. ABC News has created a new newsmagazine to fill The Mole's 8 p.m. Friday slot.

Bob Patte
rson was moved to Wednesday nights, allowing Dharma & Greg
and Spin City
to fill up the Tuesday 8-9 p.m. ET/PT hour. NYPD Blue
was thrown into the 9 p.m. Tuesday slot to help fellow Steven Bochco drama Philly. And the network's much hyped midseason reality series The Runner
was benched earlier this month because Bloomberg and Braun felt it was "inappropriate" in the wake of the events of Sept. 11.

By taking Millionaire
from four weekly installments last season down to two, ABC has improved its overall median-viewer average. ABC is the youngest of the Big Three networks thus far this season, with an average viewer age at 44.7 years, down 2.5 years from last year. NBC is at 46.0; CBS, at 51.3.

"After four weeks, I think it's way to early to assess our season," says Bloomberg.