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'Alias,' the Turkey That Didn't Get a Thanksgiving Pardon

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, November 24, 2005

The mice at Disney-owned ABC waited until 5 o'clock on the day before a national holiday to announce that "Alias" is kaput.

The Jennifer Garner drama series will have its final broadcast in May.

The day before a national holiday, known in the TV industry as Take Out the Trash Day, is traditionally when unpleasant news is released to the media.

TV industry suits who have not developed a hit series in the past 18 months begin to tremble at 5 p.m. on Take Out the Trash Day -- the witching hour when those "esteemed executive is leaving to pursue other interests" news releases are e-mailed in hope that a) reporters already have left to get a head start on their holiday revelry or b) the news is reported in poorly read holiday editions.

But this may be the first time a series demise has been announced at 5 on Take Out the Trash Day.

We hear that ABC started getting calls from the trades on Tuesday about the cancellation of "Alias." That would make sense, since that's about the time the network and Disney-owned Touchstone TV, which produces the show, started telling the producers and cast.

Even so, ABC did not send out its official announcement until 5 p.m. yesterday, though, to be fair, it contains perfectly crafted quotes, not only from a very sad ABC Entertainment chief Stephen McPherson, but also from a distraught Touchstone Television President Mark Pedowitz and from a prostrate "Alias" executive producer Jeff Pinkner.

Really, really long quotes. George Washington's second inaugural address long.

But, in a nutshell, what they said was:

"We're devastated to announce the end of the longest running unsuccessful prime-time series on television."

"Alias" is, let us not forget, the lowest-rated show ever to air after the Super Bowl.

And yet, as "Law & Order" creator Dick Wolf so grumpily -- and yet so accurately -- pointed out at the most recent TV press tour, "Alias" got more hype per rating point than any other show in TV history.

Maybe that's because star Garner, who plays the sexy super-spy, is way cute, and The Reporters Who Cover Television are mostly middle-aged men. You think?

Taking a cold, hard and, of course, completely objective, look at "Alias," it has attracted only 7 million viewers on average this season. That puts it squarely at No. 75 for the season. In its target demographic, 18- to 49-year-olds, it ranks 73rd, tied with "Threshold" -- which CBS has yanked because of its low ratings.

When "Alias" followed "Lost" last season, which was its best ratings-wise, it attracted 10.4 million viewers. But that's kind of funny-money, because it did not debut until January and it ran without repeats -- a time-honored stunt for artificially goosing ratings on a struggling series. (Ask Steven Bochco next time you see him how well that strategy worked for "NYPD Blue" as it waned.)

If, for instance, you take the repeats out for the first season of "Alias," when it played right after the ABC Sunday movie, the drama's average jumps from 9.7 million viewers to 10.2 million -- on a par with that best-ever season when it enjoyed the hit "Lost" for a lead-in.

"Alias" already was scheduled to take a break to accommodate Garner's maternity leave. "Dancing With the Stars" takes over its time slot on Jan. 5.

* * *

CBS, the only network that doesn't care whether Fox moves "American Idol" to Thursdays, announced some of its midseason scheduling plans this week.

New dramedy "Love Monkey" will take the "Amazing Race" slot, Tuesdays at 9 p.m., starting Jan. 17. "Love Monkey" is, according to CBS, about a thirtysomething, up-and-coming record exec who's navigating "the tumultuous and highly amusing waters of working and dating in New York City with the help of his buddies." Back in the summer, CBS Entertainment head Nina Tassler called it a male "romance in the city." Tom Cavanagh plays Carrie . . . I mean Tom Farrell, the looking-for-love up-and-comer.

Meanwhile, CBS's new Jenna Elfman sitcom, formerly called "Everything I Know About Men" but now called "The Jenna Elfman Show," is getting the ultra-comfy Monday 9:30 p.m. slot, starting Jan. 23.

Elfman, formerly of ABC's "Dharma & Greg," plays a single lawyer who, like Cavanagh's Tom Farrell, is trolling for love. In making the move to CBS, she's reunited with her "Dharma & Greg" co-star Thomas Gibson, who is one of those people running around Mandy Patinkin on CBS's Wednesday drama "Criminal Minds." Elfman has been given CBS's best sitcom time slot, following No. 1 sitcom "Two and a Half Men" -- which, coincidentally, is from "Dharma & Greg" creator Chuck Lorre. Is Hollywood a small town or what?

CBS did not announce where it would put its other midseason series, "The Unit," a military drama from David Mamet and Shawn Ryan; ditto "The New Adventures of Old Christine" starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Yes, CBS now is officially chasing young viewers, so Louis-Dreyfus can be called "old."

ABC recently announced some of its midseason plans -- specifically what will be its new, post-"Monday Night Football" lineup.

No word yet on midseason plans from NBC or Fox, which have been playing Thursday Night Chicken for weeks.

NBC reportedly has been mulling whether to move its biggest success of this season, "My Name Is Earl" (aka "NBC Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly's job security"), to Thursday, where the network is floundering.

But NBC understandably wants to know whether, as has been speculated, Fox is going to move "American Idol" to Thursday and, if so, which time slot.

Fox had said, back in May, that in January "Idol" would return with its usual Tuesday 8-9 p.m. and Wednesday 9-9:30 p.m. play pattern, and that "Bones" would replace "House" on Tuesdays at 9 while "House" would take over the Monday 8 p.m. hour.

But we're all adults here and we've learned the hard way that a Fox announcement made on May 19 isn't worth the paper it's printed on by May 20.

So NBC has been waiting and Fox has been mum because if there's one thing Fox likes, it's messing with NBC. See, networks really do have personalities. But NBC's waiting will end next week, when Fox unveils its midseason schedule.

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