KABC to Drop Morton Downey Talk Show


KABC-TV Channel 7 is planning to drop “The Morton Downey Jr. Show” from its midnight-1 a.m. time period, but the acerbic talk-show host said Thursday he’s eager to move to a better time slot on another area station.

The movement of Downey’s show in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest television market and a vital proving ground for syndicated shows, could mark a turning point in the TV fortunes of the program that pioneered the much-criticized trend toward “trash TV.”

Downey’s show has been experiencing a ratings decline in Los Angeles and other major cities recently. A number of national advertisers have refused to buy time on it and other senational-style talk shows. And producers of the Downey program have tried to smooth its edges in recent weeks but not enough, so far, to stem the drop-off of its audience numbers.


“We’re deciding now how long to keep it on the air,” Terry Crofoot, KABC president and general manager, said this week. “Our contract with the syndicator expires in September, but it (the change) will probably be before then.”

Downey said he hopes KABC will drop the show before fall, although he was surprised to learn of the station’s plans only Thursday.

“We already have another station lined up in Los Angeles,” the talk-show host said from New York, “and I’d like to get on the other station as soon as possible.”

He declined to name the new station.

“I’m sure they’ll want to do an announcement,” Downey said, “have a press party and all that. But I will say this: We have done remarkably well on the independents in other cities.”

Whoever carries the Downey show will be getting a kinder, gentler Mort--at least, a somewhat kinder and gentler version.

“What they’re doing,” he said of his producers, “is civilizing me. They’re taking away my raw meat. If you’ve watched the show in the last three months, you know that my language is completely controlled now.”


Downey disputed reports of ratings attrition on the show.

But Arbitron figures from the July and November, 1988, ratings sweeps and this month’s sweeps show a decrease of about 7% of his audience in Los Angeles. And, although Downey maintains that his current nationwide overnights “are up 63%” from last fall, figures from 14 major television markets appear to indicate a slight overall ratings decline.

Downey has suffered a “tapering-off” of his ratings in Chicago, said WPWR-TV program manager Neal Sabin, whose independent station carries the Downey show in prime time.

“I attribute that to two factors,” Sabin said. “First, the show came on at the most opportune time possible last year, the end of May . . . so it was not up against first-run programming until the delayed fall season got under way.

“Second, I think the yelling, screaming, stomping act is wearing thin. They have to make changes to survive and they know it.”

Although Sabin said he is “always looking for new programming,” he has no immediate plans to move Downey from the 9-to-10 p.m. time slot. “I really don’t know what I could put into that time slot that would do better,” Sabin said.

KABC’s Crofoot insisted that his station’s decision has had nothing to do with either the Downey program’s ratings or its problems attracting advertising.


“It was just that I didn’t feel the show fit in with our future programming plans,” Crofoot said.

Downey, however, said he has felt the advertisers’ pressure and has toned down his show as a result.

The fact that “Geraldo (Rivera) and I are on a hit list of about 80 advertisers who refuse to place commercials on our shows” is a motivating factor behind his new, more civilized approach, Downey said.

But Downey bristled at Chicago program executive Sabin’s suggestion that he is moving toward “a more Phil Donahue or Oprah Winfrey approach” with his program.

“No,” insisted the grillmeister of late night. “I’m a Downey approach, and I’m going to stay a Downey approach.”