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Fox's Half an 'Ally' Falls Flat

By Lisa de Moraes

Friday, December 31, 1999; Page C07

Fox has iced Ally Lite.

The half-hour version of "Ally McBeal" was the brainchild of the show's creator, David E. Kelley, it was intended as a way to boost syndication sales of the show, the copyright to which is owned by Fox parent 20th Century Fox. That's why Fox the network agreed to the idea -- plus, the clip job costs about a buck to produce.

Broadcast stations don't pay much for rerun rights to one-hour shows these days because one-hour shows don't rerun well -- even if a producer calls one a sitcom and it wins the Primetime Emmy for best sitcom. Though Kelley convinced the television academy that "Ally McBeal" is a sitcom, he hasn't been able to convince viewers, so its rerun performance has been about what you'd expect for a one-hour drama series.

Fox had hoped that a half-hour rerun version of the show, renamed "Ally," would do better and could be sold to stations on that basis.

But "Ally" averaged just 6.2 million viewers so far this season and ranks No. 96 -- a far cry from the "Ally McBeal" following of 13.6 million and No. 27 ranking.

The half-hour show's ratings were so anemic that Fox yanked it from the November sweeps race; it returned on Dec. 7, but Tuesday was its last airing.

Fox will fill that Tuesday time slot with the feature film "Mrs. Doubtfire" next week, reruns of its new midseason show "Malcolm in the Middle" on Jan. 11 and Jan. 18, and Who Knows What after that.

Fox Entertainment President Doug Herzog said back in May, when the "Ally" idea was announced, that it would be an easy show to cancel should it fail -- no need to close down production and "send everyone home crying."

The scheduling guys over at UPN finally woke up and decided to try airing series on Friday nights instead of its "Blockbuster Video's Shockwave Cinema" movies.

It'll happen on Jan. 21; that night, UPN will rerun its entire Tuesday lineup, which debuts anew on Jan. 18 with an Evel Knievel-hosted reality show called "I Dare You" at 8 p.m. That's followed by "Shasta McNasty" -- it's been renamed "Shasta," which should come as no surprise because we had that little talk two weeks ago about this season's jinx on new series with titles containing more than one word -- and the animated "Dilbert."

So far this season, UPN's been following its most valuable piece of real estate with a movie block the next night. "WWF Smackdown!" on Thursdays is UPN's most watched show by a mile, with a loyal audience of nearly 7 million viewers, which is huge by fledgling network standards. That means nearly 7 million pairs of eyeballs are available to see a promo for another UPN show. But the problem with a movie block is that you have to resell it to viewers every single week. Just because they liked last week's movie doesn't mean they'll tune in to this week's. Series, on the other hand, can gain a hard-core following. And they get bigger bucks out of Madison Avenue. Series are what UPN should be playing on Fridays.

Both "Shasta" and "Dilbert" could use some "Smackdown!" assistance, too. "Shasta" has a fan base of only about 2.4 million and ranked No. 129 -- out of 136 series this season. "Dilbert" averaged fewer than 2 million watchers and ranks No. 133.

Bill Kristol still has a berth on the Sunday Beltway show circuit for at least one more week. He'll be guesting on this weekend's "Face the Nation" on CBS. Conservative Kristol recently got the boot at ABC, where he'd graced the round table on "This Week With Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts" for three years. ABC had asked the Weekly Standard editor to stay on the show through next month and make occasional appearances after that. But he nixed that idea, informing ABC that he had fulfilled his contract -- which, Kristol told The TV Column, expires today, allowing him to appear on CBS two days later.

The Kristol canning is part of ABC's effort to fix the waning numbers on its Sunday show. For the fourth quarter of '99, NBC's "Meet the Press With Tim Russert" outperformed "This Week" by 40 percent -- its best quarterly showing since the advent of the people meters in 1987. The Russert-cast led the pack with a following of 4 million, while Sam and Cokie's flock totaled a little under 3 million, which is still better than Bob Schieffer's tally of 2.6 million for "Face the Nation" and lots better than the 1.5 million for Fox's "News Sunday." "Face" EP Carin Pratt said they're thrilled over at her show that Kristol's a free agent again. "He's a really smart guy and we've always liked him and we're glad to have him available again -- he should be heard," Pratt said.

Meanwhile, Kristol thinks the switch "will be a culture shock, not being interrupted by Sam. But otherwise, I think it will be fun."

"NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw" will finish the calendar year in first place among the evening news shows for the third time in a row, followed by ABC's "World News Tonight With Peter Jennings."

Through last week, Brokaw's show was averaging 10.3 million viewers, while Jennings's program logged 10.18 million. "CBS Evening News With Dan Rather" posted 8.9 million.

And ABC's "Good Morning America" is the most improved of the morning newsmags for the fourth quarter, compared with the same quarter in '98. "GMA" recorded 4.3 million viewers for the fourth quarter -- up 30 percent vs. '98's 3.3 million. "The Early Show" on CBS averaged 2.7 million, compared with 2.9 million in '98, and NBC's frontrunner "Today," at 6 million viewers, was on par with last year.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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