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Push comes to shove

When syndicators ignored November sweeps' election-muddled results, several "on-the-bubble" series, though not officially renewed for next season, weren't canceled. But after February's no-excuses sweeps, some of the bubbles will have to pop.

None of the ratings-challenged shows posted marks above 2.0 in the weighted metered markets last month, according to Nielsen Media Research. And most of them are doing worse in their time periods versus last year's occupants of those slots.

A few are close to definite dismissal. JudgeMills Lane (1.3 rating/5 share, down 24% from its year-ago time-period average) has already lost its Tribune station launch group, and Queen Latifah (1.6/6, down 6%) is expected to be dropped from the Fox O&Os. Real TV (1.6/5, flat) reportedly closed down production last Friday, and Dr. Laura
(0.9/5, down 25%), relegated to late-late night, should also be counted in that group.

However, many such shows could survive to see fall 2001. "For us, we like Moral Court (1.1/3, flat)," says KCAL-TV Los Angeles Programming Director Virginia Hunt. "Of course, we are looking for better numbers, but, for daytime shows, it's brutal what your expectations can be. To just get a 2.0 now is a home run."

Also helping Moral Court's case is that it has locked up two-year deals in many markets, according to a source close to Tribune, which airs the show on several of its stations. But, since the strip "is on the edge economically, [Warner Bros.] has gone back to stations and told them there would not be a double run," possibly because slim ad rates can't off-set the extra residual fees to show staffers and talent. A Warner Bros. spokesperson had no comment.

The source sees the stations'side of the issue, too: "With the economy being what it is, stations are probably a little reticent to pay for something new and unproven."

Why would studios continue with such series? As syndication insiders point out, studios are less interested in the show than in its time period, which is crucial to good relations with advertisers.

"Warner Bros. is a real estate business," says one syndication source. "They are not going to give up prime real estate on stations until the absolute last minute. As soon as studios say it's over, stations start moving the shows and the advertisers start asking for make-goods."

Yet Warner Bros.' Queen Latifah is on the ropes for that very reason. Sources say the Fox O&Os want to make room for planned regional rollouts by production partner Twentieth Television. The station group's chief, Bob Cook, has hinted at a talk show on selected outlets, and Texas Justice debuts this month on six Southern Fox O&Os.

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus (1.0/4, down 38%), now on many NBC-owned stations as the lead-out to The Today Show, is probably looking over its shoulder at NBC's own 2001 project, The Other Half. For the first three weeks of February, the Columbia TriStar show nabbed a 0.7 household rating, 13% below its season-to-date average.

One source at a major NBC affiliate says, "I would sure like some relief from this show as soon as possible; presumably, this is where The Other Half will run."

A Studios USA Domestic Television spokesperson says it is "actively selling" freshman Arrest & Trial (1.7/4, 11%), clearing it in 66% of the U.S., though not in Los Angeles and New York. King World's Curtis Court (1.6/5, down 11%) is similarly homeless there for next season.