NBC’s Tartikoff Defends Cancellations

Times Staff Writer

Although maintaining that NBC’s prime-time schedule for the fall should be “judged by what we put on, not what we didn’t put on,” programming chief Brandon Tartikoff spent much of a news conference Wednesday defending his cancellation decisions.

Speaking to television writers via a national satellite hookup from New York, the president of NBC Entertainment said that while the decisions to drop such series as “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd,” “Our House,” “Crime Story” and “A Year in the Life” were difficult, they were deemed necessary as part of the network’s commitment to keep its top-rated lineup strong.

Ratings were definitely a factor, Tartikoff said.

“We’re in the ‘get ‘em into the tent’ business as well as the quality business,” he said.


He stressed this point in discussing the critically praised “Molly Dodd,” a bleakly comic story of a 35-year-old divorcee (Blair Brown) struggling to survive in New York City. Tartikoff has been accused of having a personal grudge against the show and its producer, Jay Tarses, but he insisted that the audience, not his own tastes, dictated its cancellation.

Tartikoff said he believed that “Molly Dodd” had received a fair trial in its 9:30 p.m. Thursday time slot following the popular comedy “Cheers,” and noted that the drop-off of 11 or 12 ratings points between the two indicated mass audience rejection for the show.

“You have to say the audience is telling you something,” he said.

He added that “Molly Dodd,” which will continue to run through the summer, might be revived as a spring and summer show or as part of the full-season schedule if it were to get enough audience support this summer.

Tartikoff called the cancellation of the critically acclaimed family drama “A Year in the Life” the most difficult call he had to make for the fall season, but that steadily declining ratings had forced its replacement.

He defended the addition of “Something Is Out There,” a series spawned by the popularity of a recent two-part movie, as having a better chance of survival than the former sci-fi series “V” because the story offered more opportunity for diverse story lines.

Tartikoff said that the inclusion of “Unsolved Mysteries,” a show that asks audiences to provide information about unsolved murders and other crimes, was not predicated by the success of Fox Broadcasting’s “America’s Most Wanted” series. “They copied us ,” he said, a reference to the fact that “Unsolved Mysteries” has been running as an intermittently scheduled special for several years.

He added, however, that this show could be NBC’s answer to the current boom of reality programming, including such fare as the syndicated Geraldo Rivera specials.

Tartikoff noted that “Unsolved Mysteries” is a show that can go on the air no matter how long the Writer’s Guild of America strike continues, since it does not involve Guild personnel. He said although the writer’s strike interfered with some of this season’s comedy development, the network can go on the air as scheduled with new fall programming in late October if the strike is settled by July 1.

Despite rumors that he might leave NBC following the 1988-89 season, Tartikoff said he plans to remain in the driver’s seat indefinitely. “As long as I’m still having fun, there’s no better job for me,” he said.