August cool for cable originals

High-profile projects get lackluster reception; even Anna Nicole is in decline

While much of cable basks in a summer ratings glow, a few recent original programs didn't exactly warm up the audiences.

FX's original movie RFK ,
said to have cost about $5 million, mustered a meager 1.4 rating for its Aug. 25 debut, surprising even network executives, who expected a Nielsen rating around the 2.0 level and gave the movie hefty promotional and marketing support. Although the film was well received by critics, FX was "disappointed we didn't get more out of it," a spokesperson said.

FX's younger viewers may not have warmed up to a biopic on Robert F. Kennedy. "To younger people, RFK is a historical figure," said MTV Networks research chief Betsy Frank. "It's going to have a limited audience."

FX gave RFK
movie hefty promotional and marketing support, but the results fell between two other recent original efforts. March movie Confessions of a Campus Bookie
earned a disappointing 1.2 rating, but last year's Sins of the Father
earned a strong 2.9 rating.

On E!, viewers turned away from E! Entertainment Television's raucous reality Anna Nicole Show. After nabbing a spectacular 4.1 rating at its debut, it dropped to a 1.8 for its fourth outing Aug. 25.

Focus groups could help Anna, says Frank. With cracks starting to appear, "I would put it in front of a target audience and do some maintenance."

E! execs aren't worried, though. Even the best marketing campaign couldn't raise E!'s profile the way Anna Nicole
has. Plus, its ratings more than double E!'s prime time average.

"This show has legs," E! President Mindy Herman maintains. "We're going to look it over after the first six weeks."

Upstart Hallmark Channel also relies on big originals to lure new viewers but tanked with Western Johnson County War.
To hype it, the network sent cattle stampeding through Manhattan's Times Square and offered stars Burt Reynolds and Tom Berenger for numerous TV appearances, including ABC's Good Morning America. Yet the four-hour special registered a 1.1 rating at its Aug. 24 debut, double its August prime time average but disappointing nonetheless.