ABC struggling for high ratings

What do networks do when President Bush decides to give a speech during Thursday night primetime television?

NBC and CBS simply ignored the Nov. 8 presidential speech, sticking instead to their usual programming of Friends and Survivor. Others, such as ABC, bumped their Whose Line Is It Anyway? to air it.

Certainly, there is a problem when a network receives more ratings help from the White House than its regular programming.

Such is the case for ABC. The presidential speech had more viewers than recent airings of the weekly show Whose Line Is It Anyway? in that time slot.

Currently, ABC is down 22 percent in households, 21 percent in viewers and 15 percent in the younger audience group, The Associated Press reports.

The network has fallen last in household ratings among the four major broadcast networks, including CBS, NBC, and Fox, according to Nielsen Media Research figures for the new season’s five weeks.

Perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks is ABC’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, which averaged 17 million viewers per episode last year. Currently 10 million people watch, a drop of 37 percent, AP reports.

“To date, ABC has very little to be happy about,” Paul Schulman, president of the New York office of media buying firm Advanswers PHD, told AP.

ABC’s poor programming may be partly to blame.

First, this season’s returning shows, Once and Again, Spin City, Dharma and Greg and The Mole II, have been pulled off the schedule after ratings for some shows dipped as low as 30 percent from last year.

Second, other networks have seen significant increases from returning shows. CBS’s JAG is up 20 percent in households while NBC’s Friends has seen a 27 percent ratings jump.

And finally, some perspective shows have been pulled off before they even had a chance to air.

The Runner, produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, is no longer a January entry for ABC because of safety concerns over its format, which involves a person being pursued across the country.

Bob Patterson, yet another attempt at a sitcom by a former Seinfeld co-star, Jason Alexander, has also been pulled off the schedule.

ABC, however, likes to think it has the potential to bounce back.

“We have some really strong comedies, and it’s energizing to look and say ‘OK, this is where we are, but now let’s just embrace it, redefine ourselves, go back to some of our core values of family comedies,” ABC chief Stu Bloomberg told AP.

Schulman agrees. “It doesn’t take that much to turn a network around. This is a very cynical business,” he told AP. “One or two shows can take you from third or fourth place to the top.”