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‘Murder One’ Takes Its Case to Mondays

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The defense rests--for now.

Frustrated with the rapidly declining ratings of Steven Bochco’s acclaimed legal drama “Murder One,” ABC announced Wednesday that it is giving up the fight that pitted the series against the Thursday night NBC powerhouse “ER” and will move it to Mondays at 10 p.m. starting Jan. 8.

In making the move, ABC Entertainment President Ted Harbert acknowledged that the legal series, which has earned almost unanimous praise from critics, was no match for the hyper-paced medical drama.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Harbert said of the original decision to take on “ER.” “We fought the good fight and now will look to take advantage of a 10 p.m. time period that was not available in the fall. We remain very confident that this excellent series can find the audience it deserves.”

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Bochco, the co-creator and executive producer of “Murder One,” reacted enthusiastically.

“I’m very pleased,” he said in an interview. “It wasn’t a losing battle against ‘ER,’ it was a lost battle. We suspected that from Day 1. This will give us the opportunity to be competitive and to see if we can survive in a normal environment. If we can, great. If we can’t, we’ve had a fair shot, and that’s all I can ask for.”

Bochco added that the direction and elements of the show would remain the same: “We’re on a track. We’re telling a story, and we will tell it to the end.”

This week’s Chapter 8 in the “Murder One” saga will be its last Thursday outing. ABC, which already had canceled the two Thursday night dramas that preceded “Murder One,” will fill out the calendar year by showing movies and specials on Thursdays, with the premiere of “The ABC Thursday Night Movie” on Nov. 30.

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“The Marshal,” a second-season drama, will be canceled to make room for “Murder One” on Mondays. Its final episode will air Dec. 25.

Before “Murder One” slips into its new time slot, a special hour recapping the first eight episodes, along with some new material, will be shown at a date yet to be announced. The entire season is devoted to a single murder case.

In moving “Murder One,” ABC was clearly reacting to the fact that the drama was not making any headway in the ratings. The series had attracted the same meager 11% of the audience in each of its last three outings. Last week, “Murder One” attracted less than one-quarter of the audience that “ER” drew.

In season-to-date ratings, “ER” is the top-rated show, while “Murder One” ranks 51st. However, the first three episodes of “Murder One” aired on Tuesday night in the “NYPD Blue” time period.

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In its new Monday slot, “Murder One” will go head-to-head with CBS’ “Chicago Hope,” which was also roundly trounced by “ER” when the two medical dramas premiered against each other last season. CBS quickly moved “Chicago Hope” away from “ER” to Mondays, where it has attracted a solid following.

In another twist, Bochco will be pitted against his friend and former colleague, David E. Kelley, the creator of “Chicago Hope.” Bochco hired Kelley for his “L.A. Law” series on NBC after it premiered in 1986, and Kelley took over the show as executive producer after Bochco left to do other projects.

In other programming news, Fox has announced that it is canceling “The Preston Episodes,” a first-year comedy starring David Alan Grier as a journalist, which had aired Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. Starting Dec. 2, an hour of “Cops” will air at 8 p.m., followed by an hour of “America’s Most Wanted.”

Meanwhile, CBS announced that it picked up “John Grisham’s The Client” for a full season. The legal drama airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m.

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