Steven Bochco by a Landslide

"Commander in Chief" creator Rod Lurie, above, has been shunted aside and Steven Bochco, the force behind hits such as "NYPD Blue," has taken the reins of the ABC series. (By Mario Anzuoni -- Reuters)

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By Lisa de Moraes
Saturday, October 8, 2005

Hail, Steven Bochco -- "Commander in Chief's" new commander in chief.

Rod Lurie, the film critic turned film director and screenwriter who created the series, is gone as show runner (aka, guy in charge), and Bochco has been given control of ABC's fantasy White House.

Lurie will keep his executive producer title, and Touchstone TV, which produces "CiC," yesterday signed a new "two-year overall deal" with him and his Battle Plan Productions.

Touchstone, a production division of ABC parent company Disney, officially confirmed the changes -- word of which had been flying around the Hollywood TV community throughout the day.

It's very unusual for this kind of change to be made to a show that has debuted as well as "Commander in Chief," which clocked the biggest Tuesday drama series launch crowd in five years.

According to some sources with knowledge of the situation who did not want to be identified because their jobs are more important, Lurie and the network had "creative" differences about future episodes.

But another knowledgeable, and equally shy, source paints a picture of a guy being stretched too thin trying to handle writing, producing and directing on the series, while juggling those helpful "notes" from 25-year-old studio and network suits that creators of hit series find themselves suddenly enjoying. This, in turn, caused production logjams, producing that network concern.

In its official document on the change, Touchstone announced that Lurie was going to "focus his energies on developing new projects under his new overall deal with Touchstone Television." (According to a report in the Hollywood Reporter, Lurie had "turned his attention" from supervising the writers' room to directing "CiC" episodes some time ago.)

"I've been a huge fan of Steven Bochco's for over two decades. I'm blown away excited to see how much more he will electrify 'Commander In Chief,' " Lurie effused in the news release.

Battle Plan Productions partner "Marc Frydman and I are overwhelmed by the confidence Touchstone Television has shown in us and we're thrilled to continue trying to knock 'em out of the park," Lurie said.

Movie stars Geena Davis and Donald Sutherland, who signed on to do a series with "film guy" Lurie ("The Contender" writer and director), now find themselves working on a series overseen by "TV guy" Bochco. Bochco, a well-respected television writer/producer, is best known for such groundbreaking series as "NYPD Blue," "Hill Street Blues," "L.A. Law" and "Doogie Howser, M.D.," as well as the infamous, short-lived police musical series "Cop Rock."

It's unclear whether, under Bochco, the president of the United States will continue to be modeled, as she has been under Lurie, after Susan Lyne, the ABC programming chief who exited in May 2004 during one of the network's many exec shuffles and who now runs Martha Stewart's operation.

As did Lurie, Bochco declined to talk to The TV Column, though he said in that news release that he always has been "a huge Rod Lurie fan" and is "excited" to be "helping to realize Touchstone's and Rod Lurie's vision."

Bochco has his own overall deal, signed last month, to create and produce TV shows at Touchstone, only his is for three years. Touchstone produces many ABC series, including "Desperate Housewives," "Lost," "Alias," "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Night Stalker."

Bochco's most recent ABC series was the short-lived "Blind Justice," which took the "NYPD Blue" time slot when that envelope-pushing cop show ended its 12-season run.

Ironically, "Commander in Chief" has been doing well, ratings-wise. When it premiered, it attracted 16.4 million viewers -- on par with the opening episode of NBC's "The West Wing." The debut helped ABC score its biggest non-sports Tuesday crowd in nearly two years and the unveiling was the biggest Tuesday drama series premiere on any network since fall 2000.

In its second broadcast, "CiC" attracted more viewers -- which almost never happens. Just short of 17 million watched the second episode, giving the series a commanding 5.7 million-viewer lead over its closest competitor in the 9 p.m. hour, CBS's "Amazing Race."

At press time, "Commander in Chief" was the only new show this season to grow its audience from its first week to its second.

Fox deserves at least a little credit for that strong second-week showing. The network pulled its Tuesday hit "House" out of the time slot for a baseball game, sending millions of viewers scurrying to other networks to sample their shows. (NBC's "My Name Is Earl" also benefited, improving its performance by about 2 million viewers compared with the previous week.)


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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