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ABC Ends Sweeps Month in 4th Place

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A poor performance during the November ratings sweeps has left ABC-affiliated television stations grumbling and the network’s executives contemplating major changes, clouding the future of even “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"--a money machine for ABC and prime time’s top-rated program just two seasons ago.

Beleaguered officials at the Walt Disney Co.-owned network said Wednesday they have yet to commit to renewing “Millionaire” for another year and wouldn’t decide until the network sets next season’s prime-time lineup in May.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Dec. 01, 2001 FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Saturday December 1, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
ABC show--A story in Thursday’s Business on the ABC television network incorrectly implied the company would develop a syndicated version of the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” show only if it is dropped from the network lineup. A syndicated edition will be produced regardless of whether the game show is kept on the ABC prime-time roster next fall.

If “Millionaire” is not renewed in prime time, a syndicated Monday-through-Friday version produced through Disney’s Buena Vista Television will premiere next year.

Executive producer Michael Davies said that because the show is relatively inexpensive--produced for a little more than $400,000 per hour--he expects it to return on ABC. It could appear either weekly or as a series of specials, he said.

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“I would be shocked if the show is not back in some form next year because of the economic advantages,” he said.

Nevertheless, ABC’s comments about “Millionaire” reflect a remarkable turnaround for both the network and the quiz show franchise, whose ratings have sunk rapidly. ABC Television Entertainment Group co-Chairman Stu Bloomberg acknowledged that the network may have in hindsight exhausted the franchise last season, saying, “Clearly, having it on four nights a week brought about [the decline] more rapidly.”

With News Corp.'s Fox network receiving a ratings boost in November from a delayed World Series and Viacom-owned CBS generating solid gains, ABC will settle for fourth place during the four-week sweeps survey in the 18-to-49 age demographic most sought after among advertisers.

ABC’s results are particularly vexing to station owners who rely on three major sweeps periods to negotiate advertising rates. “I’m very disappointed in ABC’s performance,” said Jack Sander, president of the television group for Belo Corp., which owns stations affiliated with each of the four major networks. “There doesn’t seem to be anything on the horizon that looks to turn that ship around.”

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Lloyd Braun, co-chairman of ABC, acknowledged that the network is in a rebuilding mode but maintained ABC is “heading in the right direction now” and has planted seeds for a comeback.

The network’s year-to-year drop has other networks scrambling to capitalize on ABC’s weakness since most of its available ad time is allocated to free commercials to compensate media buyers for the ratings shortfall.


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