Jury Is Out on ‘Murder One’s’ Switch to Monday


And now for the retrial.

The ABC legal drama “Murder One,” hailed by critics as the best new show of the season but clobbered in its head-to-head battle against NBC’s juggernaut “ER,” will again take its case to viewers when it returns Jan. 8 in a new time slot--Mondays at 10 p.m.

The series from co-creator and executive producer Steven Bochco, which chronicles a single murder case for an entire season, was yanked off the schedule in mid-November--and mid-story--after ABC executives became frustrated with the falling ratings.

The drama will pick up where it left off. Instead of ABC’s initial plan to broadcast a special episode that would recap the previous eight hours, or “chapters,” the series will kick off with a brief summary, followed immediately by jury selection and the beginning of the murder trial.


Bigger than the question of guilt or innocence, however, is the question of whether “Murder One” can be saved at this point.

Bochco and ABC insist that viewers will have no problem picking up the plot line and keying in on the numerous characters. They predict that the series will find a large audience in its new time period.

“Relaunching a show is always an uphill battle, but this is a very, very good show that comes along rarely in network television,” said ABC Entertainment President Ted Harbert.

Still, some industry insiders believe the verdict is already in on “Murder One.”

They claim it might be too difficult to convince viewers that they can easily pick up the story line halfway into the season. They say there seemed to be viewer burnout on legal-themed TV due to the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Last but not least, they point to Exhibit A: CBS’ popular medical drama, “Chicago Hope,” which will be the new competition for “Murder One.”

“Moving ‘Murder One’ was the only way to get it sampled, but ‘Chicago Hope’ has a very loyal following,” said Jack McQueen, executive producer of TN Entertainment, which produces television specials for advertisers.

“It will be a real promotional challenge for ‘Murder One’ to tell viewers that this is not a season-long story,” he said, “that people can watch it for an hour and feel good about it, and if they miss one, they can come back.”


Joel Segal, executive vice president of the New York-based McCann-Erickson advertising firm, said “Murder One” has already lost fans because “it never lived up to its pilot. They lost their chance to get a following, and the competition has established itself. Its time has come and gone. Not that it’s a terrible show; it’s not. But it’s missed its moment.”

Harbert insists that such grim forecasts are premature and unfounded. He said a survey of 1,000 viewers concluded that they would feel no reluctance at jumping into “Murder One” at this late date and that the show’s primary obstacle to date had been “ER.”

“An overwhelming majority said they frankly chose ‘ER’ over ‘Murder One,’ but that when they saw ‘Murder One,’ they liked it a lot,” he said.

“Murder One” stars Daniel Benzali as a successful defense attorney in charge of clearing a troubled young movie star accused of murdering a 15-year-old girl. The series performed well when it premiered in the “NYPD Blue” Tuesday time slot last September, but ratings fell in its next two Tuesday outings. The decline was more dramatic when the show went to its regular Thursday slot against “ER.”


Bochco said the drama’s slow start will not hurt the flow of the series.

“We talked about doing a reprise episode, but it’s completely unnecessary,” he said. “We’ll have a 2 1/2-minute summary at the front of the episode that will lay everything out as clearly as can be. Then we’ll start the trial. As you meet all these people in the trial, you’ll pick up the thread immediately.”

Though no major changes in the show or cast are planned, Bochco said one of the most criticized elements of the show--subplots within each hour that had nothing to do with the principal murder case--will be eliminated.


“I never cared for them,” he said. “They were conceptualized with providing the occasional viewer with a story that had closure. But the primary story line had such a stylistic uniqueness to it, it just seemed like we were doing another show every time we went away. So we’re getting rid of them. We had actually made that decision before this all happened.”

He said there would still be subplots, but they would be connected to the main story.

Bochco said of the show’s second life: “It would seem to me that the difficulty lies in the perception that, with a complex story line, people might think it’s too late to jump in at the middle. . . . There’s a significant number of viewers who are assuming incorrectly that this is not a user-friendly show. It is.”