Viewers Rebel as 'Lost' Whacks Another Character

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, November 3, 2006

Serialized-drama writers ran screaming for their Zoloft yesterday when the shocking news was delivered:

One of the oh-yeah-we're-gonna-kill-somebody! episodes of "Lost" not only did not result in the customary huge ratings spike, it fumbled 1 million viewers from the previous week and got whomped for the first time ever by another scripted drama, CBS's nonserialized "Criminal Minds."

It was, they knew, the Beginning of the End.

"Lost" is the beacon on the hill of serialized dramas, the one that has what all other serialized dramas aspire to: multiple convoluted story lines going nowhere, almost no point of entry for new viewers and a hipster exec producer who barely shows up in the second season because he had to direct "Mission: Impossible 3."

In one of its now trademark Someone's Gotta Die episodes, "Lost" on Wednesday bumped off Mr. Eko, played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, sending "Lost" bloggers into a tizzy.

"[Doggone] you, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse for killing off the [heinie]-kickingest character on the show! [Doggone] you to H-E-double-hockey sticks!" wailed one blogger.

"Tonight's episode . . . took one character that the audience had had time to make an emotional connection with -- and then it killed him . . . I would rather have him back, going through his spiritual struggle and tugging at my heart, than deal with all this peripheral stuff that lets the show avoid moving us forward," complained a less-caffeinated one.

But, in a stunning reversal, Wednesday's sacrifice of Akinnuoye-Agbaje did not bring "Lost" a ratings spike. Up till now, a cast whacking was guaranteed to get at least 25 percent more viewers.

Why just last May, when Michael gunned down Ana-Lucia and Libby, ratings soared 30 percent. On Wednesday, the "Lost" audience dropped to just under 16.1 million.

Over at CBS, the Mandy Patinkin drama "Criminal Minds" clocked nearly 17 million viewers.

Turns out, three cute blond soccer-playing chicks stuck in a hole by a bad man who promises to keep them there until two of them kill one of them and he doesn't care which trumps some lame "Lost" whacking.

And all over Hollywood, actors in serialized dramas who have been living in constant fear that their character could be whacked to goose ratings got down on their knees and asked the TV god to bless whatever kinky writer came up with the three-chicks-in-a-hole story line for "Criminal Minds."

ABC, no doubt stunned by the ratings reversal, kept a stiff upper lip and put out its best effort at a yea-for-us ratings news release:

ABC's younger skewing "Lost" dominated CBS' older skewing "Criminal Minds" in the time period by 32% in Adults 18-49 and by 58% in Adults 18-34. . . . On average the CBS drama gets 58% of its overall audience from viewers 50+, driving up its Total Viewer count. In contrast, 64% of the audience for "Lost" is under 50.

To which CBS Senior Executive VP Kelly Kahl replied: "I don't really care what the percentages are -- we hit a new high in 18-49 [with 'Criminal Minds'] and we'll certainly take that."

Plus, he noted, "Criminal Minds" did a better 18-49 number than ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" that night.

He forgot to mention that "Criminal Minds" finished in its closest position ever among younger viewers to an original episode of "Lost." We didn't.

* * *

"Will & Grace" is back!

Creative team David Kohan and Max Mutchnick are working on another sitcom about close longtime friends -- one gay, one straight.

This time both Will and Grace will be male. And they'll be on CBS.

It's a so-called "put pilot" deal, which means the networks will owe Kohan and Mutchnick, and their studio Warner Bros. TV, a penalty if they don't make the pilot.

But these days, almost every show in development is cast-contingent. So let's dip into the CBS Repertory Theatre roster, shall we, and see if we can guess who will be cast as Will Jr. and Grace Jr. on this as-yet-unnamed comedy project.

Joe Pantoliano and Simon Baker?

Tom Selleck and Tony Danza?

Hector Elizondo and Tom Cavanagh?

In addition to "Will & Grace" -- which was on the air for eight seasons and extremely funny for about three -- Mutchnick and Kohan's credits include NBC's short-lived "Four Kings," short-lived "Boston Common" and short-lived "The Single Guy," WB's short-lived "Twins," CBS's stillborn "The Stones" and NBC's lasted-way-too-long-despite-dismal-ratings-but-that's-because-it-was-inspired-by-NBC-topper-Jeff-Zucker "Good Morning, Miami."

Which prompts the question: How many stinkers does someone have to concoct before they stop getting put-pilot deals on a Big Four network? We'll keep you posted.

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