Broadcasting & Cable
Oct 23, 2000
Xena loses budget battle.(Studios USA)
Author/s: Susanne Ault
Dwindling prime time slots for prime time-priced drama spell doom for warrior princess
Turns out all her flips and kicks didn't help Xena win the battle of the budget, though the show was the top-rated first-run action hour for four straight seasons. So why did she get the hook from Studios USA?
Prime time slots for weekly syndicated series are disappearing as formerly independent stations, turned WB or UPN or Fox or Pax, are relying less on syndicators and more on the networks to supply programming. Unfortunately, Xena has a prime time budget
Xena looks good on paper; its 3.4 average for its fifth 1999-2000 season, according to Nielsen Media Research, pushes it above its rivals. But stations can read between the lines. That rating is still a 40% fall-off from her peak (5.7 for the 1997-1998 season). For her syndicator, those ratings aren't enough to support the hefty price tag for action hours, which cost about $1 million an episode (with Xena or Pamela Lee Anderson-starrer V.I.P. topping that).
Combine Xena's departure with the cancellation of Studios USA'S action half hour Jack ofAll Trades and the attendant re-jiggering of its back2Back action block, and a genre that was once gold for the studio is showing some tarnish.
"If you look at the first-run landscape, you're relegated to [weekends] between 6 p.m. and 8p.m. or, a lot of the time, on weekend afternoons. ... It's very difficult to get sampled," says Steve Rosenberg, president of Studios USA Domestic Television. "So I'm not sure action hours are a viable form [anymore]. But if, across the board, the Tribune stations, or any major station group, came to us and said we want to run Xena at 9 p.m. on Saturdays, then we'd continue to produce it."
Tribune is an unlikely candidate. Its own new action hour, Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, is threatening Xena's turf. In many cases, both shows air on Tribune-owned stations.
Two weekends into its season, Andromeda hasn't rocketed past Xena in the ratings, but it came dose to Xena in Nielsen's metered-market averages. For the week ending Oct. 13, Andromeda posted a 2.3/5 to Xena's 2.4/5. Still, Xena is 9% up from her 2.2/5 lead-in and 4% above her 2.3/5 year-ago time period average. Not as strong as Andromeda, which is 4% off its 2.4/5 lead-in and even with its year ago 2.3/5 average. Ratings in the 2 range are respectable if unspectacular.
The death of Xena has not soured Studios USA on the genre that was so good to it with Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, from which Xena was spun-off.
"We may not be in the once-a-week, first-run form that we have been in," says Rosenberg, "but that doesn't mean we're getting out of the action-hour business, because as a company, we're pretty good at it."
There is Invisible Man, Studios USA's experiment of launching an action hour into prime time on the cable Sci-Fi Channel and into syndication on 87% of the country's broadcast stations. For the most recent period, Invisible Man netted a 2 household rating.
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