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November 27, 2000

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ABC Ought to Be Ashamed


       Don't get me wrong. I was a television newsman for 20 years. The news, particularly the story of the moment, always takes precedence (except when they follow police chases for four hours on L.A. local news). However, ABC did a butcher job on its most popular show last night and deserves to be taken to the woodshed.
       Make no mistake. Coverage of the vote certification in Florida, Joe Lieberman's response, James Baker's counterresponse and George W. Bush's address----all of it essential. However, why did ABC apply a different standard to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Sunday night from what the other networks apply on Sundays when NFL football creates consistent weekly runovers into prime time?
       First, after justifiably allowing "The Santa Clause" to run 12 minutes beyond its scheduled 9 p.m. finish, rather than beginning Millionaire at 9:12, the show was joined in progress, missing four of Justin Ray Castillo's questions on the way to his $500,000 run. Already, you've butchered your top-rated show.
       I have no quarrel at all with ABC interrupting at the point it did to cover Gov. Bush's speech shortly after 8:30, even with Castillo on the verge of answering his $500,000 question. However, I am yet to understand why the network did not have the courtesy to pick up the program at the precise point where the contestant was still pondering Captain Kirk as his answer for what character is depicted in a white mask by the killer in the movie "Halloween." Instead, after the news interruption ended, we were treated to two minutes of commercials on the East Coast, followed by a return to the set with Regis handing the guy the $500,000 check. Some suspense---other than the fact ABC gave away in its promos that someone would see a $1 million question Sunday night. That's another story.
       Fortunately, we see Justin Ray's deliberation and ultimate decision to pass on the big one. Then comes the guillotine job on Joe Erwin's game.
       Joe's the only other contestant to get in the hotseat Sunday night. We meet his mom, we hear about his work as a golf writer and the fact he is not an exceptionally gifted golfer. We see him rip through the opening five and after his $1,000 question, we go to a break.
       I look at the clock and notice we're at about 10:02 (actually 9:02 here in the Central time zone), so I figure we're coming back for the final segment with Erwin and then The Practice gets on at around 10:15 or so. Wrong!
       After the break from Erwin's first five questions, we see my local meteorologist telling me he'll tell me in an hour whether the Thanksgiving weekend rain will result in colder weather. Next up, here come the lawyers----and I don't mean those handling Gore's and Bush's war.
       Oh yes, I was livid----and I felt the temperature rise simultaneously in the homes of millions of other East Coast Millionaire fans. If ABC wants to take the pulse of whether this is still a strong show, they should send Alex Wallau, the network president, on a tour of homes around the U.S. and get a quick focus group of how most of us feel.
       This is incredible! Even with the interruptions, if we had been given WWTBAM in its entirety, The Practice would have perhaps started at 10:30 (and some CBS affiliates weren't running Touched By an Angel, of all things, until after 9 because of the evening's news events. The local CBS affiliate's news in Memphis did not begin until 10:40.
       This whole scenario reminded me of what happened on NBC a little more than 30 years ago. You football fans over 40 remember it. Jets vs. Raiders. Jets lead it 32-29 with less than two minutes left. Some bozo at the Peacock house decided to cut away from the game at 7:00 sharp to start the scheduled network two-hour special, Heidi. You guessed it. Raiders score two touchdowns in the final minute to win 43-32. Fans on both coasts are furious and NBC's switchboard burns out in 15 minutes. The so-called Heidi game is the reason why networks allow their shows typically to be delayed and run in their entirety when sports events run beyond the scheduled start of prime time.
       This was Heidi II. ABC obviously forgot about that Sunday night when the network gave us a heavily-promoted Millionaire which was chopped up worse than pork chops at Ryan's Family Steakhouse. Of all things, not to let us see the end of a contestant's game (and Tuesday night, we'll see Joe Erwin "picked up in progress") was inexcusable.
       The network gave us the news we needed to know Sunday night. No problem with that. However, ABC most impertinently did not give us all of the show we wanted to see. Wallau ought to have his end kicked, as well as all of his programmers for this one. You don't take a chainsaw to your network's highest-rated series and one which has the same structure as a sporting event with distinct winners and losers and progressions without incurring the ire of viewers. You West Coast people saw Millionaire in full Sunday night. Tell us what happened to Joe Erwin when you know. ABC obviously doesn't care whether we saw it, or not.

       POST-GAME NOTES: We'll have more on this shortly but GSN's Christmas gift will be a Dec. 23 expanded night of Christmas game show classics, most of them from the Goodson-Todman library....More trouble appears to be brewing with that Pyramid pilot....I'm told the Card Sharks pilot went very well---after a lot of talk of radical changes, stayed relatively true to the original with some tweaking and Pat Bullard did a respectable job as host....We'll be interviewing our new Jeopardy! college champ Pam Mueller this week....One wonders how Justin Ray's race to a million would have been altered if he hadn't used that first Lifeline at $200....In response to many, many questions, we've learned Anitra Ford---one of the two original Price Is Right models---sells beachfront real estate in the Santa Barbara area....You'll see a succession of on-air tryouts for the new models on Price but the first ones won't be the ones retained....The new episodes of Hollywood Showdown, which are all already shot, begin airing Jan. 1....Despite initial reports from Variety, don't expect Pearson to take What's My Line? or The Better Sex into syndication in the fall....TV Land may do a 54-player tournament for Ultimate Fan Search next summer, which would expand the event to 27 nights.

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