USA Reprieves Nikita, Thrills Fanatical Corps

USA Network worked out a deal with Warner Bros. Television that will save cult favorite La Femme Nikita from an untimely demise, officials said last week.

Under the deal, USA has ordered eight new episodes of the dark hour-long primetime drama, with actress Peta Wilson set to reprise her role as the lead character. The new episodes will start airing in early 2001 under the agreement between USA, Fireworks Entertainment and distributor Warner Bros.

This spring, USA and Warner Bros. failed to reach an agreement or come to financial terms on renewal of Nikita, which debuted in January 1997, for a new season. So the series was considered canceled following the airing of its final new episodes in August.

With word of the Warner Bros.-USA stalemate, Nikita's loyal fans jumped into action. Over the past few months, they have flooded both sides with mail, sunglasses (like those worn by cast members), TV sets and dollar bills, campaigning for the series to be saved.

USA Cable president Stephen Chao said that while he certainly was aware of the fans' support and commitment to Nikita, his network never wanted to give up on the show and had kept talks going for months.

"We've been negotiating nonstop since January," Chao said. "I've heard the support of the fans, and that only reinforced the fact that we were negotiating. We haven't wavered in our support of the show. But it was a complicated negotiation."

Warner Bros. officials couldn't be reached for comment.

There aren't many precedents for fan support extending the life of a show after its cancellation has been announced. In 1997, USA Cable's Sci Fi Channel picked up Mystery Science Theater 3000 months after Comedy Central pulled it off the air. MST3K finally expired last year.

The rabid Nikita fans first learned that USA and Warner Bros. had reached a pact to continue Nikita from a Web posting by one of the show's consultants Aug. 25, according to Nicole Esposito. She is a Pennsylvania-based Web-page designer who set up a Nikita site, one of many such fan sites. Esposito's is the "Save La Femme Nikita Campaign 2000" command post.

She had the news about Nikita's rescue on her Web site the next day, Aug. 26, days before USA issued its official Aug. 29 press release. The site said, "Congratulations LFN fans, we did it!"

While Nikita fans were happy the show would go on, some were disappointed that USA only ordered eight episodes, and not a full season of 22, Esposito said.

"That's what we were able to negotiate," Chao said, referring to the order for eight shows.

While Chao said he had never wavered in his desire to keep Nikita on the air, the show's continuation may help him address some of his programming woes. This summer, a number of the new shows that have debuted on USA have not performed well.

New comedies The War Next Door and Manhattan, AZ have averaged soft 1.2 and 1.0 ratings, respectively, according to Nielsen Media Research. USA's new drama, The Huntress, has fared better, with a 1.7.

Still, because all of the new series are not clicking, USA was in a special bind that wasn't going to be helped by the departure of Nikita from its Sunday lineup and its looming loss of its blockbuster World Wrestling Federation franchise this fall to The Nashville Network.

For its new episodes from June through August, Nikita averaged a 1.6 rating, said Ray Giacopelli, USA Cable's vice president of research. The finale episode this season, Aug. 27, received a 2.1 rating.

Production of the new Nikita episodes begins this month in Toronto.

Esposito said the fans "worked very hard in essence to promote the show. We felt we helped in that way. The fans consider it a win for all of the work we've done."

At the Television Critics Association tour in July, Wilson said she had been approached about doing a Nikita TV movie.

"I just finished the fourth season of La Femme Nikita, and I really don't know what's going to happen," she said. "The freeze on La Femme Nikita, the trouble, was purely a political thing between the network and the studio. It really had nothing to do with us-the cast-or the fans. It wasn't really personal."