Steven Bochco is getting a lesson on the cold reality of the broadcast TV business these days. ABC has informed him that his cop drama "NYPD Blue" probably will not get its old Tuesday 10 p.m. slot this season after all, because the network wants to keep "Once and Again" in that time slot.
Here's the cold reality part: ABC parent Disney owns the show "Once and Again." Disney doesn't own "NYPD Blue."
When ABC announced its new prime-time lineup back in May, it said the Sela Ward chick drama would air Tuesdays at 10 p.m. for seven weeks. Bochco's cop show would return to the slot, where it's run for six seasons, on Nov. 9--just as the November sweeps race got underway.
Between then and now, Disney topper Michael Eisner decided to make the studio's TV production company and ABC one and the same operation. And he named the head of the production outfit--the place where "Once and Again" is made--co-chairman of ABC's West Coast operation.
Yesterday, sources say, Bocho had a meeting with the other co-chair, Stu Bloomberg, who broke the bad news to him.
"It galls me on every level," Bochco told the Associated Press yesterday.
ABC declined to comment. But a network source says that no final decision has been made.
Certainly "Once and Again" has not performed as well in the time slot as has "NYPD Blue." In its first four broadcasts, "Once and Again" has averaged 13.6 million viewers, while "NYPD Blue" copped 16.2 million in its first four originals last season--during the November sweeps. And "Once and Again" has dropped viewers in each of its four telecasts, starting with 16.8 million viewers and dropping more recently to 11.5 million.
But "Once and Again" is a brand-new show, while "NYPD Blue" is heading into its seventh season and trending down. Last season it averaged 14.6 million viewers, which was its smallest audience to date; in its heyday--the 1994-95 TV season, it pulled in 23 million viewers.
And then, there's that all-important fact that Disney owns the one show and not the other.
Since the Federal Communications Commission threw out a bunch of rules prohibiting it, networks--or the studios that own them--have been able to own as many shows as they like on their prime-time lineups. These days, it's up to about 50 percent of the prime-time slates. And if a network has to choose between helping a show it owns and one it doesn't, well, just guess which way the vote will come out.
Besides, ABC recently struck a deal to rerun "Once and Again" on cable's Lifetime network--which Disney also partly owns.
Bochco may be just the teensiest bit responsible for the situation. ABC execs have always maintained that they'd like "NYPD Blue" to start in September but that Bochco never has it ready. There's been some wisdom to the later start--avoiding the clutter, that sort of thing. But after several seasons of filling the slot for weeks with, well, filler (like "Sex With Cindy Crawford") until Bochco's show was ready, ABC finally realized that the delay represented an opportunity to launch another series--and did so.
Yesterday, Bochco told AP that he hasn't been told where his show will be moved, but it will not make its scheduled Nov. 9 premiere date.
He says he's so angry he wants ABC to cancel "NYPD Blue" so he can sell it to another network. Maybe he could sell it to Fox; that network is owned by News Corp., which also owns 20th Century Fox--which owns rerun rights to "NYPD Blue." On the other hand, he's currently suing that studio over its sale of the reruns to cable's fX network--which 20th Century Fox owns.
I know you think that TV folks out in Hollywood are moral degenerates with potty mouths and that when writing their shows they exhibit callous disregard for the rest of the country's more sensitive ears.
Not so. Why, the producers of "Chicago Hope" have never, until tonight, used the expression "[expletive] happens." That particular word has been a longtime broadcast TV no-no.
In tonight's episode, Dr. Jack McNeil (Mark Harmon) tries to save the pitching arm of a baseball prodigy after it's shattered during a game. Though McNeil does everything right, everything goes wrong and the young man loses his limb. During a review by the hospital's medical board, the doctor uses the expression.
Executive producer Henry Bromell said there was just no other way to say it "and get that reality."
"You can say 'stuff happens' but it's not as good, not as real." Which leaves you wondering: Does this guy know that he's got Lauren Holly cast as a surgeon on this show?
Over at Dick Wolf's new series, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," the writers grappled with a similar dilemma. In their case, the problem was how to describe a certain sex act without offending viewers too much. For the uninitiated, the original title for this drama series was "Sex Crimes," which more accurately describes what the show is about. And Wolf has blasted NBC for putting it on at 9 p.m.; he says it should be on at 10 because of the subject matter.
Anyway, the writers were looking for a way for coldhearted model agency head Nina Laszlo, played by Bebe Neuwirth, to describe a certain sex act--the kind that President Clinton made famous--with an expression that a tough cookie like Laszlo might actually use. Remember, "reality" is very important to the folks out in Hollywood.
They came up with the phrase "getting a Lewinsky" and it was used in last week's episode.
Seem like a nice solution? Not to former White House intern Monica Lewinsky's dad, Bernard, who has demanded an apology from Wolf, from the production house that makes the show and from NBC, along with a promise never to use the expression again.
"The point behind my outrage is that there is a family behind this name, and I think it's disgusting they would even consider saying something like that," the oncologist told the trade paper Variety.
"Hey, we didn't make it up," Wolf told The TV Column yesterday.
NBC is inclined to agree.
"There are certain times when a word makes it into the public lexicon because of news events. And this is one of those words," an NBC spokeswoman said yesterday.
Lewinsky has suggested Wolf's writers use the expression "Clinton job" in the future.
CAPTION: "Once and Again's" Sela Ward and Billy Campbell; below, "NYPD Blue's" Dennis Franz and Rick Schroder.