Ailing Barr Can't Help Out Needy ABC Family


ABC Family will continue to search for a buzz-building, network-transforming series, as a highly publicized cooking show featuring Roseanne Barr fell out of the oven last week.

Industry observers called the canceling of The Domestic Goddess Hour
a setback to a network that has yet to establish a brand or identity since The Walt Disney Co. acquired Fox Family Channel for $5.2 billion in fall 2001.

But ABC Family executives prefer to call the Domestic Goddess
demise a speed bump for a network finally turning the corner toward establishing itself among a core audience of 18-to-34-year-old adults.

Preproduction had begun on Domestic Goddess, but it had to be halted on Aug. 13 — after just three days — when Barr told network officials she would be undergoing a hysterectomy and was unable to shoot "indefinitely." At that point, the Sept. 20 premiere date was delayed.

After learning the recovery period could take up to eight weeks, a decision was made to pull the plug entirely.

The demise of Domestic Goddess
predated by two days ABC's call to end the reality show The Real Roseanne Barr
after just two weeks, amid Barr's health issues and tepid ratings.

The Real Roseanne
was a showcase of the behind-the-scenes process involving the making of the pilot of Domestic Goddess, a project that many deemed "unwatchable."

Sources said, though, that a new creative direction had been agreed upon before the health issues became a concern.

Shapiro 'disappointed'

ABC Family president Angela Shapiro called the cancellation of Goddess
"very disappointing," but said the network had few options in the matter.

"Not knowing when it would be ready, we didn't know when we could fit it into our schedule," she said. "We didn't have the luxury of picking it up and airing it at any time."

While the show never saw the light of day on ABC Family, it's nevertheless a blow to the network, which would have benefited from the exposure that ABC's lead-in show could have provided.

"Anytime you have the type of publicity machine that was in place, including in essence the making of the show running on the broadcast network, you know you're going to get some sampling," Katz Television Media Group vice president and director of programming Bill Carroll said. "When that doesn't come to fruition, that has to be disappointing. Is it tragically disappointing? Probably not."

ABC Family was also hoping the show would boost anemic ratings.

During the second quarter of 2003, the network's 0.6 rating was down 25% compared to the same period in 2002, according to an ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

In July, the network increased to a 0.7 mark, even with last year.

ABC Family's 18-34 delivery numbers were up 11% in July compared to 2002, according to Turner Research.

Summer busts

Recent summer series installments haven't lived up to expectations, either.

Dance Fever, a reality/competition-show series based on the syndicated program that ran from 1978 to 1987, is averaging a 0.8 rating since its launch in July.

Perfect Match: New York, a dating show, is performing at slightly less at a 0.6 since its July bow.

Earlier this year, the network cancelled reality series The Last Resort
due to its poor ratings.

It did slightly better with the special Tying the Knot With Melissa Joan Hart, which pulled a 1.1 rating.

Robert Thompson, director of the center for the study of television at Syracuse University, opined that while ABC Family is retaining viewers, it needs a major programming hit to move up the ratings chart. That certainly can happen: look at the summer success of Bravo, which broke through with a single hit, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

"In this multichannel era of satellite and digital cable, you need some kind of show that will bring people into the tent — or at least find the tent," Thompson said. "The Roseanne
show was going to be one of the signature programs for ABC Family."

Shapiro concedes the channel's ratings have yet to hit expectations.

She attributed many of the household losses to the drop-off in older viewers, adding that her network has made headway in increasing its core demo of adults 18 to 34. Dance Fever
alone has attracted 2.5 million new viewers, defined as those who have not watched the channel within the last four weeks.

"The demos are moving in the right direction. We're losing households, but it's because we're losing that 50-plus audience as we evolve the channel," Shapiro said.

"Bottom line is that no one likes to lose the number anywhere. While I would love to have the households higher, we're bringing in a lot of new viewers."

Shapiro said the network is only now beginning to see the fruits of its labor since head of programming Linda Mancuso came aboard last November.

ABC Family will unveil more than 300 hours of programming over the next 12 months — including a series based on actress Rosanna Arquette — which Shapiro believes will please Nielsen households.

Shapiro is also bullish on the daily teen block that launched May 26. The 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. block, which includes Switched?, in which teens swap roles and identities, and The Brendan Leonard Show, built around a teen local access show, is up about 83% in total teens and over 91% for female teens.

To help fill the void left by Roseanne, Shapiro said an option is to create an adult version of Switched?

If possible, Shapiro hopes to have the show on in October.

Shapiro also is keen on romantic comedy movies. The June 22 This Time Around
and July 20 Lucky 7
entries drew 2.2 and 2.1 ratings, respectively.

"Viewers have come to expect movies from this channel, and they've really embraced the romantic comedies," she said.