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Xena loses budget battle

Dwindling prime time slots for prime time-priced drama spell doom for warrior princess 10/22/2000 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Turns out all her flips and kicks didn't help
Xena
win the battle of the budget, though the show was the top-rated
first-run action hour for four straight seasons. So why did she get the hook
from Studios USA?

Prime time slots for weekly syndicated series are disappearing as
formerly independent stations, turned WB or UPN or FOX or Pax, are relying less
on syndicators and more on the networks to supply programming.
Unfortunately, Xena has a prime time
budget.

Xena looks good on paper; its 3.4
average for its fifth 1999-2000 season, according to Nielsen Media Research,
pushes it above its rivals. But stations can read between the lines. That
rating is still a 40% fall-off from her peak (5.7 for the 1997-1998 season).
For her syndicator, those ratings aren't enough to support the hefty price tag
for action hours, which cost about $1 million an episode (with Xena or Pamela Lee Anderson-starrer V.I.P. topping that).

Combine Xena's departure with the
cancellation of Studios USA's action half hour Jack of
All Trades
and the attendant re-jiggering of its Back2Back action
block, and a genre that was once gold for the studio is showing some
tarnish.

"If you look at the first-run landscape, you're relegated to [weekends]
between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. or, a lot of the time, on weekend
afternoons..It's very difficult to get sampled," says Steve Rosenberg,
president of Studios USA Domestic Television. "So I'm not sure action hours are
a viable form [anymore]. But if, across the board, the Tribune stations, or any
major station group, came to us and said we want to run
Xena
at 9 p.m. on Saturdays, then we'd continue to produce it."

Tribune is an unlikely candidate. Its own new action hour,
Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda
, is threatening Xena's turf. In many cases, both shows air on
Tribune-owned stations.

Two weekends into its season,
Andromeda
hasn't rocketed past
Xena
in the ratings, but it came close to
Xena
in Nielsen's metered-market averages. For the week ending Oct.
13, Andromeda posted a 2.3/5 to Xena's 2.4/5. Still,
Xena
is 9% up from her 2.2/5 lead-in and 4% above her 2.3/5 year-ago
time period average. Not as strong as
Andromeda
, which is 4% off its 2.4/5 lead-in and even with its year
ago 2.3/5 average. Ratings in the 2 range are respectable if unspectacular.

The death of Xena has not soured
Studios USA on the genre that was so good to it with
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,
from which
Xena
was spun-off.

"We may not be in the once-a-week, first-run form that we have been in,"
says Rosenberg, "but that doesn't mean we're getting out of the action-hour
business, because as a company, we're pretty good at it."

There is Invisible Man, Studios
USA's experiment of launching an action hour into prime time on the cable
Sci-Fi Channel and into syndication on 87% of the country's broadcast stations.
For the most recent period, Invisible Man
netted a 2 household rating.

And then there is Cleopatra 2525,
the first-half of the studio's Back2Back first-run action block, which will be
expanded into an hour starting in late January. The move officially cancels
Back2Back's second half, Jack of All Trades. The beefed up Cleopatra makes sense,
because it typically grabbed the higher ratings of the two. As a whole,
however, Back2Back never matched the ratings riches of
Hercules
, the show Studios USA was trying to replace.

 

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