For a struggling network that has lost its top ranking, major league football and a president in the last year, a little divine intervention would have seemed in order.
So it should have been good news after third-place CBS received ratings from heaven during the past two weeks from an unexpected source--the comedy-drama "Touched by an Angel," which has been on and off the air in different time periods since its debut last fall. Many had already written it off as being dead in the water.
When CBS put episodes of the series about an earthbound angel in the 9 p.m. Saturday slot--between the established hits "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" and "Walker, Texas Ranger"--it defeated all other network programs in the time period, which has long been a trouble spot for CBS.
But tonight, viewers hoping to see "Touched by an Angel" at 9 will find that the show's wings have been clipped again.
The hourlong slot is now occupied by two situation comedies to which CBS already had committed--"The Office," with ex-"Rhoda" star Valerie Harper, and the return of "The Five Mrs. Buchanans," which drew poor ratings when it premiered last September in the 8 p.m. Saturday slot.
Some industry insiders say the abrupt removal of "Touched by an Angel" after it had built some momentum reflects the network's bad luck this season.
But CBS officials said that analogy was inappropriate and inaccurate.
"At this time of year, it's important for us to try a variety of shows, and 'Touched by an Angel' and 'The Office' are both shows that we feel very strongly about," said Susan Tick, a CBS vice president. "We just wanted to see how they both did."
After "The Office" and "The Five Mrs. Buchanans" finish their run, other shows, including two-hour episodes of "Dr. Quinn" and "Walker," will run in the 9 p.m. slot.
Although Tick said that no decision had been made on if or when "Touched by an Angel" would return, Martha Williamson, the show's executive producer and creator, said she has been led to believe that it will be renewed for another season.
"We're talking about a show that had zero expectations, and now network people are saying that we're the front contender for that time period," she said. "Putting us on in the slot was a test. They told us that if you can hold that time slot and your lead-in audience, you can expect to be back in the fall."
The drama, which has been compared to Michael Landon's 1980s series "Highway to Heaven," stars Roma Downey as an angel who helps out people who have reached a crossroads in their lives. Della Reese co-stars as Tess, her angel supervisor.
Williamson has been lobbying heavily for the show. An ad that appeared in the trade paper Daily Variety on Feb. 23 pleaded with readers to tune in. "God is Alive and Well on American Network TV! But for How Long?" it read.
"What we've accomplished cannot be ignored," Williamson said. "We've fulfilled our end of the bargain, and all I can do is hold to the promise they gave me."