ABC-TV is handing "NYPD Blue" a better time slot than it had before on the new primetime schedule, in an effort to cure its Tuesday night ratings blues.
The network announced a major overhaul of its Tuesday schedule, canceling Joan Cusack's half-hour comedy, "What About Joan," and moving "Bob Patterson" to Wednesdays at 9:30 following "The Drew Carey Show." Jason Alexander's low-rated freshman comedy has been a major ratings disappointment for the network, failing to compete with "Frasier" on NBC.
The moves mean Tuesdays will feature just one hour of comedy and two hours of drama on ABC.
After Nov. 6 -- when "NYPD Blue" begins its ninth season with a special two-hour episode -- the schedule will feature "Dharma and Greg" at 8 p.m., "Spin City" at 8:30, and "Blue" at 9 p.m. Network executives said that would provide the strongest possible lead-in to "Blue" creator Steven Bochco's new drama, "Philly."
The move means "NYPD Blue" will not be up against NBC's police drama, "Law & Order," on Wednesdays at 10 p.m., as originally scheduled. Bochco told Daily Variety he is thrilled by the change.
"It seems to me it's a win-win-win situation," he said. "For 'NYPD Blue' to not have to compete with 'Law & Order' is huge. It's not that we don't have competition now -- 'Frasier' is there -- but at the very least, there's a clear choice."
Bochco suggested that "Blue" would improve ABC's ratings at 9 p.m. and give "Philly" a better chance to connect with viewers.
"Bob Patterson" will still be on Tuesday next week, but will switch time slots with "Spin City" and move to Wednesdays on Oct. 24.
Tuesday night is not ABC's only ratings problem. The network's weekly primetime ratings are down more than 20 percent from the first two weeks of the 2000-01 season.
PBS GETS AUTHORITY TO SELL ADS
The Federal Communications Commission has voted to let public broadcasters sell advertising time and other services on their new digital distribution systems, and the decision is proving to be controversial, even though public TV broadcasters asked for the new authority.
The FCC vote was 3-1 -- with the no vote coming from the only Democratic member of the commission.
Congress has ordered public TV broadcasters to convert to digital technology by May 2003. Just under 11 percent of America's 354 public TV stations have begun to broadcast digital signals.
Conversion is proceeding slowly largely because it is a costly proposition for the stations.
During Thursday's commission meeting, FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell said "the soul of public broadcasting is in no way compromised" by the new policy. Public stations must still reserve a "substantial" majority of their digital programming for noncommercial presentation, under the new policy.
"This will provide some flexibility to allow them to serve their mission," he said.
The ruling is widely seen as an indication that Powell is moving ahead with wholesale deregulation of the communications sector.
"The sale of advertising puts on the block one of the very things that makes public television special and different from commercial broadcasting," said Democratic commissioner Michael J. Copps said at the FCC meeting. "I believe that permitting advertisements on the digital spectrum of public television is contrary to statute, contrary to the will of Congress and contrary to the mission of public television."
Andy Schwartzman -- president of Media Access Project, a Washington advocacy group that follows communications law -- told the Los Angeles Times that his group will mount a legal challenge of the FCC ruling.
"The whole point of creating public broadcasting was to have a noncommercial preserve for television," said Schwartzman. "By definition, public broadcasting is supposed to be free from market forces."
RON HOWARD'S NEXT
There are reports in Hollywood that director Ron Howard is close to a deal to direct "The Burial," described as the story of a black personal injury lawyer in Mississippi who teams up with another lawyer -- a self-avowed white racist -- to win a $260 million judgment for a funeral home proprietor who claims he has been fleeced by a funeral business conglomerate.
Doug Wright, who wrote last year's costume drama, "Quills," wrote the screenplay for "The Burial," based on an article by Jonathan Harr in The New Yorker.
Harr is also the author of "A Civil Action," the courtroom drama which was adapted for the screen in 1998, starring John Travolta as a tort lawyer who risks everything to take on a major environmental polluter.
UMA IN TRAINING FOR MARTIAL ARTS PICTURE
According to a report in the New York Daily News, Uma Thurman caught a screening this week of the new kung-fu movie, "Iron Monkey," and said she was taking the opportunity to do some research for an upcoming martial arts picture with her "Pulp Fiction" director, Quentin Tarantino.
"I'm a chick, I'm here doing my homework," said Thurman.
Tarantino wants Thurman to play "the deadliest woman in the world" in his upcoming project, "Kill Bill" -- described as the story of a woman seeking revenge on her former boss after his hired guns put her in a coma that causes her to miscarry. Warren Beatty reportedly will play the former boss.
The paper said Thurman is holding off on actual martial arts training until she delivers the baby she is carrying now.
LOOK WHO'S TALKING
Erin Brockovich -- whose story was told in the movie of the same name -- is reportedly close to signing a deal to host a syndicated TV talk show.
According to various published reports in Hollywood, Dick Clark is on board as executive producer of the project.
Julia Roberts won the Oscar for best actress for per portrayal of Brockovich.
SAG BALLOTS ARE IN THE MAIL
The Screen Actors Guild has mailed ballots to 98,577 members nationwide, for use in the guild's election of its three top national officers.
"Ballots were delivered to the United States Post Office today (Friday) and should be in the hands of all our members by the middle of next week," said SAG official Clinta Dayton. The Guild also posted a notice on its Web site (sag.org), advising members to look for their ballots in the mail.
The candidates for SAG president are Angeltompkins, Eugene Boggs, Melissa Gilbert and Valerie Harper. Candidates for recording secretary are Renee Aubry, Elliott Gould and Kevin Kilner. Amy Aquino, Kathleen Haigney and Kent McCord are running for the position treasurer.
Members have until Oct. 31 to return their ballot. Results will be announced during the first week in November.