Nets Hunt to Fill Trouble Spots

The uncertainty of the war in Iraq is distracting networks

War and Fox's American Idol are distracting the broadcast networks from their normal March and April activities—focusing on the coming advertising upfronts, May sweeps and development for the fall season—and instead forcing them to constantly tinker with their prime time schedules.

ABC is making the most changes, pulling three series and postponing several specials. Most of the holes will be filled with war coverage, making ABC the network with the most prime time coverage of the war, even though the network got off to the poorest start.

The network removed midseason adventure hour Veritas
from its Monday 8 p.m. slot. ABC plans to air the show's nine remaining episodes sometime this year. Veritas
never did well, and was making it difficult for The Practice, moved from Sunday, to deliver strong numbers. ABC's other midseason additions—Dragnet
and Miracles—aren't big hits either, but remain on the schedule.

ABC also pulled Tuesday-night reality show The Family after three outings, but plans to bring it back this summer starting from the beginning. The network believes that viewers will like it if they find it. ABC tried the same do-over with The Mole.

Profiles from the Front Line, about soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, also got the boot, with no plans to bring the show back.

In the midst of all this, ABC is launching two new sitcoms. Regular Joe
premiered, after a repeat of ABC's freshman hit, 8 Simple Rules,
last Friday, March 28, at 9: 30 p.m. And Lost at Home
is scheduled to launch Tuesday, April 1, at 9:30 p.m., after a double-play of According to Jim. Neither is an ideal launch slot. And starting Tuesday, April 8, ABC will bring NYPD Blue
back, airing original episodes through May.

ABC appears to be struggling much more in midseason than it was in November, when it launched its Tuesday and Wednesday night lineups to good audiences in adults 18-49 and took second in the sweeps. February was a different story, as Fox, helped by American Idol, blunted ABC's new dramas and hurt its Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

"I think ABC is in a better position going into this fall than they were last fall," said Steve Sternberg, director of audience analysis at Interpublic Group's Magna Global. "What they really needed to do was lay a foundation they can build on and to a degree they have done that."

Both ABC and NBC are scrambling against Fox's Idol. Last week, NBC aired repeats of its Thursday night comedies on Tuesday night to stop the talent show. The strategy had limited success: American Idol
scored a 9.4 rating/24 share and 24
a 6.2/15, and Fox won both time periods in adults 18-49.

Fox hopes to maintain its Tuesday strength with the tentatively titled Junior Idol
(premiering June 3) after American Idol
ends in May. Junior
will lead into new drama Keen Eddie. This fall, a new reality show will keep that time slot warm, leading in to the third season of 24. American Idol 3
comes back in January, so Tuesdays at 8 p.m. may stay all-original year-round for Fox.

CBS and The WB are having easier times in midseason because their demographics are different: adults 25-54 for CBS and adults 18-34 for The WB.

UPN is hoping hip-hop hour Platinum
will make a big splash when it premieres Monday, April 14, at 9 p.m. UPN also is taking a shot at reality with America's Next Top Model, set to bow Tuesday, May 20, after the series finale of the cult-hit Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. Although the end of Buffy
is guaranteed to do huge numbers, competition will be stiff that night with American Idol's two-day finale, followed by the season finale of 24 on Fox.