Friday, March 31, 2006

"Commander-in-Chief" Going on Hiatus, Having Ratings Trouble

From the San Jose Mercury News:
"Going in the other direction: "Commander in Chief.'' ABC quietly announced today that although the White House drama is coming back with new episodes -- it vanished back in February -- it will be dumped into the 10 p.m. Thursday time period opposite "Without A Trace'' and "ER'' instead of its old 9 p.m. Tuesday slot as originally planned. (The return is slated for April 13.)

While it was off the air, the show, which stars Geena Davis as the first woman president, went through every more turmoil behind the scenes with Steven Bochco ("NYPD Blue'') leaving and more new producers and writers coming in. (Bochco had replaced series creator Rod Lurie in the fall.) Scripts were scrapped and the show apparently took yet another turn in tone/approach.

ABC won't officially say it's giving up on "Commander'' but it looks like the administration of Mackenzie Allen is going to be a whole lot shorter than the one of Josiah Bartlet on "The West Wing.''"

From the futon critic:
"COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF (ABC) - Dee Johnson has been tapped as the troubled drama's new showrunner following the exit of Steven Bochco from the show's day-to-day operations. Bochco, who's also working on the drama pilot "Hollis & Rae" for the Alphabet, will still remain an executive producer on the series, which returns next month. No reason was given for the change.

From Broadcasting & Cable:
"Rumors swirled Thursday of another impeachment behind the camera at ABC’s Commander in Chief.

Executive producer Dee Johnson is sliding into the showrunner’s role, while Stephen Bochco is away on pre-production of his drama pilot, Hollis and Rae. But sources close to the show said Thursday that Bochco and Commander may have parted company over what one source described as a “bad fit” between the show and the veteran producer. This comes with the show currently on the sidelines from ABC’s schedule.

While ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson is said to be a fan of the show, it remains unclear whether Commander will make the spring return that ABC previously indicated. The network had said the show would return on April 18 with seven straight episodes through the end of the season.

After original showrunner Rod Lurie left in the fall (reportedly over continuing to turn in scripts behind schedule), Bochco took over on the heels of his new deal with Commander studio Touchstone Television. But he faced an uphill battle to get the show back on track. He led a three-week hiatus around the holidays to allow the product to "regroup," a source said, but the show never got its ratings groove back.

Now, one source close to the situation speculates that Bochco and ABC may have clashed over the amount of notes the network was giving on the show, which ABC denies.

“Bochco just wasn’t about to take notes from them,” the source says. “ABC is very involved, and their success has made them increasingly involved, but that is the price of doing business with them - and any network today. The ABC people are smart, their notes are good, but under the day-to-day pressure of a series, it can be a lot.”

Both the network and the studio denied that Bochco has been pushed out, instead maintaining that the plan for Johnson to take over in Bochco’s absence was always in place.

The studio also denied speculation that Lurie and fellow producing partner Marc Frydman could become involved in the project once again.

Commander in Chief, which stars Davis as the first female U.S. president, had a relatively strong fall before falling off as the season wore on. It was pulled off the schedule last month. "

From the IMDB:
"'Commander in Chief' Gets Early Sendoff
US TV network ABC is pulling Commander In Chief off its schedule even earlier than anticipated, due to poor ratings. The Geena Davis drama was scheduled to go on hiatus on February 28, but network executives decided to make the break effective immediately. ABC's scheduling chief Jeff Bader insists the network was trying to do "what we think is best for its long-term prospects." Bader says, "With this new schedule, (Commander) will return with a healthy run of seven straight episodes in the spring." The show has been plagued by problems including production delays and the show's original creator being replaced last year, but there have been some bright moments - Davis claimed a Best Actress Golden Globe award last month for her portrayal of President Mackenzie Allen. "

From the Associated Press:
"LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- "Commander in Chief" is going on a six-week hiatus, making way for a new comedy from "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels as part of ABC's midseason schedule makeover.

The White House drama, which brought Geena Davis a Golden Globe last month for her portrayal of the president, will air through February 28. It will be replaced in its 9-10 p.m. EST Tuesday slot March 7 by the sitcom "Sons & Daughters."

ABC will air back-to-back episodes of the half-hour show during its run. The comedy's ensemble cast includes Fred Goss, who's also an executive producer, Max Gail and Dee Wallace.

"Commander in Chief" will return April 18th for its final four new episodes of the season, the network said Wednesday. In all, the drama will air 19 episodes, shy of the usual 22, reflecting earlier production delays.

Last October, ABC turned the "Commander" reins over to veteran producer Steven Bochco ("NYPD Blue," "L.A. Law") after filming fell behind under series creator Rod Lurie, although Lurie remained with the show."

Knight Ridder reports that "Industry experts say the move does not bode well for a second season."

From the Kansas City Star's TV Barn blog:
" ABC is at TCA today. On Friday about 75 critics visited the set of the ABC show "Commander in Chief." Had a press conference with the cast and producer Steven Bochco. I forgot to ask about this letter I received Jan. 10 from reader Jeff Trout:

Here's tonight's listing for "Commander in Chief": "Sub Enchanted Evening" When a U.S. submarine on a covert mission off the coast of North Korea runs into trouble, Mac must find a way to diffuse the international crisis before things get out of hand.

Meanwhile, back on 11/14/2001 NBC aired the following episode of "The West Wing": A U.S. submarine has "gone quiet" off North Korea, putting the President into crisis mode. And he's not pleased to have to deal with a cantankerous State Department veteran (Hal Holbrook).

Seems strange that ABC is recycling West Wing Episodes in order to bolster its Tuesday Night lineup, while NBC is doing everything it can to bury The West Wing. Is it any wonder NBC is 4th in the ratings???

Not that I would've gotten a straight answer to that one.

"Commander in Chief" has an impressive set, two soundstages long, and that's not counting the Air Force One interior, a football field long, that was the backdrop to our press conference on a third stage at Raleigh Studios. I have to say, though, that the twisty hallways of the West Wing had that oh-so-familiar, well, "West Wing" feel to them.

Aside from look-and-feel, how is "Commander in Chief" like "West Wing"? Well, as of this week, they're both in big time ratings trouble. "Commander" got pile-driven by the debut of "American Idol," which Hoovered viewers away from both ABC and NBC. Though "Idol" will stop tormenting Geena Davis soon enough, it'll then be Hugh Laurie's and "House's" turn to keep the pressure on "Commander," which has been losing points steadily all season.

Want to know how bad things are? During today's press conference, Bochco revealed something about an upcoming episode: The president's son is going to knock up a girl. In our collective experience as critics on the bus back to our hotel, we couldn't remember happening Bochco spilling the beans since his last failing show (not counting "Over There," which vanished so quickly there wasn't really time to stage a promotional intervention)."

From the Hollywood Reporter:
"Commander in Chief" is losing its grip on power.

The new ABC drama series, which earned star Geena Davis a Golden Globe Award this week for her role as the first female U.S. president, seems to be sinking into the same midterm malaise affecting the approval ratings of President Bush; "Commander's" ratings have been declining steadily since bowing to big numbers in September.

The series' downturn has industry insiders wondering whether its primary cause is the regime change that occurred behind the scenes after only six episodes were completed. Series creator and executive producer Rod Lurie was replaced as showrunner by veteran TV producer Steven Bochco, reportedly to quell ABC's concerns over production delays.

Now the network and "Commander" producer Touchstone Television, ABC's fellow Walt Disney Co. subsidiary, are grappling with a dilemma that happens to be playing itself out in one of the series' own story lines: What will it take to get "Commander" re-elected for another term?
But just when it looked like ABC had another hit on its hands, "Commander" began slipping through its fingers in November, dropping to fourth in the time slot among viewers 18-49. Original episodes took a breather last month, only to return January 10 with a far smaller audience of 11.4 million viewers and its lowest marks yet in adults 18-49 and adults 25-54. In each of those demos, "Commander" was down at least 30% from its premiere.

On Tuesday, "Commander" dropped even lower, which was to be expected against the two-hour series premiere of "American Idol." But even though NBC's "Earl" has been moved out of the Tuesday 9 p.m. slot to Thursday, "Commander" is sure to face an uphill climb should it remain on Tuesday because Fox's "Idol" is now the 800-pound gorilla of the night and will greatly benefit its 9 p.m. companion, "House."

While "Commander" may not have lived up to its initial promise, it's a drawback that might ultimately prove to be a footnote to ABC for the 2005-06 season. With "Lost," "Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy" humming, and the Super Bowl on its air next month, the network is still very much a contender to claim the 18-49 crown for the season.

Insiders say "Commander" could be experiencing something of an accelerated version of the fate that befell "The West Wing," which saw the success of its first seasons erode seemingly overnight once its original executive producers -- Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme -- left the show over creative differences with NBC.

Under Bochco's direction, the series hasn't made any noticeable creative shifts. But sources say Bochco hasn't quite gelled with "Commander," having never run a series he didn't create. Nor is the family-friendly, straight-laced "Commander" tonally consistent with the edgy programing he has made his hallmark over the years -- from NBC's "Hill Street Blues" to ABC's "NYPD Blue" to FX's "Over There." Sources also suggested Bochco now may exit the show at the end of the season to concentrate on other programing he is developing under a two-year deal he signed with Touchstone last year.

By all accounts, Bochco was pressed for duty because Lurie was overwhelmed by the many tasks he took on as showrunner. It was quickly evident that "Commander" was falling way behind schedule, and production was shut down for three weeks beginning in mid-November. The production slowdown created a six-week break from original episodes that began last month, which likely caused some viewers to forget it was on the air. Sources said another problem for "Commander" caused by its production delays is that the program has no time to engage in the reshooting other ABC series typically undergo.

Once "Commander" returned after its break, ABC's marketing efforts were said to be too focused on relaunching major midseason changes to Monday and Friday to devote much time to reintroducing the series. Newer spots tout Davis' Golden Globe win, which ABC hopes will remind viewers to check out "Commander."

As quickly as ABC moved to bring Bochco in after just two episodes aired, the damage may already have been done. Only the last three episodes of the 11 aired this season were entirely under Bochco's watch; a few in between were started by Lurie and completed by Bochco.

ABC could conceivably find a new time slot for "Commander" this season but may be reluctant to because the series has served its 10 p.m. lead-out "Boston Legal" well; "Commander" and "Legal" score high among upscale viewers in big urban markets, which appeals to advertisers. That said, "Commander" is almost certain to take a break in March, when ABC is expected to seed its schedule with midseason series."

From Knight Ridder:
"Can this administration be saved? We're talking about the presidency of that Connecticut Yankee played by Geena Davis in ABC's" Commander in Chief."

The show started with massive approval ratings. Thanks to the 16 million viewers who tuned in for the debut, "Commander in Chief" was the only new series this season to crack the Nielsen Top 10. But the polls, um, ratings, have been trending down.

On Nov. 29, the massively promoted addition of Mark-Paul Gosselaar to the cast swelled the audience back up to 13.6 million. But "CiC" still finished third in its 8 p.m. time slot behind NBC's "Biggest Loser" finale and Fox's "House."

So what's the rub? It's obvious people were drawn to the concept of a female chief executive. They wanted to like the show. But the weekly serving of hokum and sanctity is proving tough to swallow.

After a gripping pilot in which Mackenzie Allen (Davis) inherited the Oval Office, "CiC" devolved into a dull and predictable mix of international and very domestic affairs. "How do you expect me to root out that terrorist camp in Lebanon when my teenager just got caught cribbing his history paper off the Internet?"

The show's creator, Rod Lurie, clearly envisioned "CiC" as an exploration of a woman trying to balance her career and her home life on the world's largest stage. But making her such an involved mom also makes her a rather implausible leader.

How does she find time at the end of the day to check on the kids' homework and boost her daughter's self-esteem? Shouldn't she be sitting next to the sultan of Bhutan in the East Room, listening to Yo-Yo Ma saw away on the cello?

The other sticking point is that President Allen and her staff all seem so faultlessly noble and principled. That simply doesn't jibe with the Washington we know, where if you're not under indictment, you're clearly not trying very hard.

Maybe the saintly quality of her character explains why Davis seems to be having trouble getting a handle on the role. She delivers her lines so stiffly, it sounds as if she just underwent a dental procedure requiring novocaine.

Meanwhile, the show was failing on two fronts. Neither the political nor the personal stories were very interesting. After a handful of bland episodes, ABC deposed Lurie and replaced him with veteran TV producer Steve Bochco ("Hill Street Blues"). This was the week in which Bochco's influence was supposed to emerge.

The most salient change was bringing in Gosselaar as political consultant Dickie McDonald. (Think James Carville without the swampy Nosferatu vibe.) When your audience is 61 percent female, as "CiC's" is, it makes sense to augment the stud quotient.

Let's hope they give Gosselaar more to do in subsequent weeks. His primary focus last week was ordering up a beauty makeover for press secretary Kelly Ludlow (Ever Carradine, in what may be prime time's most laughably miscast role).

Other changes include moving the stories involving the first children onto a remote back burner and inviting the president's battle-ax mother (Polly Bergen) to live at the White House.

A number of flaws have yet to be addressed. The president is still too good to be true. Last week, she threw over a fiercely held political policy because someone gave her a sappy, handwritten greeting card. Imagine how quickly she'd cave if Cindy Sheehan camped on her lawn.

And the whole show needs to be opened up to reflect the complexity of Washington and the constant demands on the president. As it is now, the entire federal government consists of Donald Sutherland. One man, a thousand votes.

Well, you won't have "CiC" to kick around anymore. Not for a while anyway. The next fresh episode isn't scheduled until Jan. 10."

Commander-In-Chief Update

West Wing Writer on "Commander in Chief"
Smits/Alda on "Commander in Chief"
IMDB Poll Results
USA Today Comparison
October Review Collection 2
October Review Collection 1
Commander in Chief Follow Up
September Reviews
Ratings Sucess

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