That scampering of little mouse feet you heard late last week was the sound of execs from Disney's ABC network beating a hasty retreat after getting publicly whipped by Hollywood's biggest baddest TV cat, Steven Bochco.

The Mouse House network announced on Friday that, upon further consideration, it had decided to give Bochco's "NYPD Blue" its old Tuesday 10 p.m. time period after all, though it won't happen until Jan. 11.

That, after telling Bochco the previous week that his show probably wouldn't return to its berth at all. Seems the network wanted to continue giving that slot to Sela Ward's dating drama, "Once and Again," which just happens to be produced and owned by Disney. "Once" has been airing there since the season's start, but ABC had promised Bochco that "Once" would bow out when "Blue" debuted on Nov. 9. Instead it looked like the network was going to give preferential treatment to the show it owned.

Bochco, who's nobody's fool, went right back to his plush digs over at 20th Century Fox and started calling TV critics and reporters in key markets who are fans of his cop show. This led to a spate of news reports over several days slamming corporate devil ABC for doing "NYPD Blue" fans wrong in the name of vertical integration.

"I'm not thumping my chest--I'm just relieved that we got a better result than we had reason to think we were going to before," said Bochco in a phone news conference arranged hastily by his publicist shortly after ABC made its about-face Friday evening.

He modestly shared credit for the coup, saying that it was "in no small part thanks to you guys and the way in which you wrote about this stuff."

ABC's West Coast co-chairman Stu Bloomberg insisted Friday that this "was the plan from the beginning."

But Bochco, who had the advantage of talking to the press after Bloomberg, said nobody ever told him about any "plan."

"They didn't say anything about anything," Bochco told his fan club--er, the critics and reporters. "They said they were not presenting us with a fait accompli, but they refused to share with us any other scenarios, although they said they had one in mind. When I asked what it was, they wouldn't divulge it."

The scenario now is to continue running "Once and Again" in the Tuesday time slot through Dec. 28. When the pro football season ends and ABC's Monday night opens up, "Once" will move to Mondays at 10 p.m., debuting there on Jan. 24.

"Once" has been steadily shedding viewers since its debut, while CBS's "Judging Amy" in the same time slot has been adding them. ABC dismisses the decline, saying the show was particularly hard hit by the baseball playoffs.

Though Bochco said the new plan was only the second-best thing he could've hoped for--the first being the return of "Blue" to the Tuesday slot on Nov. 9 as originally planned--he sounded pleased as a cat with fresh mouse on its breath.

That's because, with 22 episodes ordered and a January start, "NYPD Blue" won't have to air a single rerun this season. And "NYPD Blue's" rerun ratings stink to high heaven.

Rerun-less, "Blue" blazes.

Take last season, for example. From its season debut until the end of the May sweeps race, when the season officially wrapped, "Blue" averaged 14.5 million viewers--its lowest season average ever--and ranked No. 15. Take out the in-season reruns, and "Blue" averaged 16 million viewers and was a Top 10 show.


CBS has pulled the plug on its low-rated sitcom "Work With Me." Expect reruns of "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "King of Queens" as well as specials to take the network through the end of the calendar year in the Wednesday 8:30 p.m. time slot left open by the vacating freshman series, which starred Kevin Pollack and Nancy Travis.