President Carter did not watch "Washington: Behind Closed Doors" Tuesday night. He wasn't the only one. Opening-night ratings for ABC's $7.5 million political serial fell well below the network's expectations, although ABC spokemen say they expect subsequent chapters of the six-night, 12-hour TV-novel to do better.
The film, adapted from John Ehrllichman's novel "The Company," tied with the CBS movie "Logan's Run" in New York and Los Angeles "overnight" ratings and beat it by a few points in Chicago. "Washington." however, did not prove a smash hit on Washington, where most of its political and amorous intrigues are set.
A telephone "coincidental" survey commissioned by ABC affiliate WJLA here showed "Washington" drawing a 44 per cent share of the viewing audience, compared to 24 per cent for "Logan's Run" on WTOP and 21 per cent for the NBC movie "the Hinden-burg" on WRC.
The ratings translate into approximately 410,000 area households turned to "Washington," with 219,000 watching WTOP and 190,000 watching WRC. The White Household - at least President Carter himself - did not watch the show, according to press secretary Jody Powell.
But Barry Jagoda, Carter's communications advisor, did see most of the program with friends on Capitol Hill."I though half of it was extremely well done and half or it somewhat shockly," said Jagoda. "I was fascinated. Half of it was like reading a better novel."
Informed of the less-than-earthshaking ratings. Jagoda said, "I'm surprised that its rating wasn't better but it doesn't bother me a bit." While he thought "the sets were quite nice - the Oval Office appeared to be oval." Jagoda, asked if the program's portrayal of political hanky-panky would lower public esteem for the federal government said, "I don't think it helps our problems."
The CIA is not portrayed favorably in the program, which features a number of characters clearly patterned after real-life public personalities. But a CLA source said yesterday there was no evidence of widespread displeasure at the agency over the show and added, "Nor are we 'officially' watching it."
"I imagine it had a pretty good rating at the CIA, "We've had worse things . . . There's 'Get Smart' after all." He was joking.
Network advertising had compared "Washington" to "Roots," the history making ABC seial on slavery aired in January. Actually, only the formats are similar - multi-part dramas shown on successive nights. The first chapter of "Roots" scored a New York overnight rating of 38.5 and a 52 share, compared to "Washington's" 21.3 and 32 share.
Even so, the first episode of "Roots" turned out to be the lowest-rated of the eight chapters. The audience grew, and the last chapter was seen by an estimated 80 million people. It became the top-rated show of all time. Nobody at the network expected "Washington" to approach that.
Brandon Stoddard, the ABC executive in charge of "Washington" and all network serials and TV-movies, admitted from Los Angeles that the ratings were lower than hoped for.
"I'm not ashamed: I'm disappointed," Stoddard said. "We were hoping for them to be higher - not much higher, frnakly, because the competition was extraordinary. We expect a little spurt tonight (Wednesday) and if we don't get it, then you will hear screams of disappointment."
ABC took a risk by scheduling "Washington" before the start of the regular season - although the season's start was subsequently moved up - and pinning to it great hopes for starting the season with a bang.
So, naturally, CBS was crowing yesterday that it had knocked the wind out of ABC's sails with "logan's Run."
"We were attempting to control their audience level and curtail their momentum on the initial night," said programming vice president Harvey Shephard. "That really was our ploy and it worked." CBS didn't stand to make "that much money" on its movie - which was sold to most advertisers at summer rerun rates - but did want to spoil ABC's party.
CBS was the top network for 18 years in a row until ABC pulled ahead during the past two seasons.
"CBS crowing? That's typical. It doesn't surprise me a bit," an ABC spokeman scoffed yesterday. He was confident "Washington" would eventually prove a winner. But Stoddard conceded last summer that the show was no sure thing. "It could just be - embarrassing," he said then. "If you fail, you fail like there's no tomorrow.