Fox axes ‘Vicki’; ankles ayem

NEW YORK — Fox Broadcasting on Monday gave up on daytime, abruptly canceling “The Vicki Lawrence Show” just five weeks after it premiered as an attempt to relaunch the struggling “Fox After Breakfast.”

The talker, which aired at 9 a.m. in many markets and live on the East Coast, aired its last original broadcast Monday, and Fox will offer repeats through Oct. 3.

Fox has struggled with the daypart since the irreverent “After Breakfast” premiered in August 1996, and ratings for “Vicki” haven’t improved, even as it adopted a more conventional format better suited to the available daytime audience. Aside from a brief upturn in its first week in August, both shows have averaged a meager 0.9 household rating and a 4 share during their runs, and a mere 0.5/4 among women 18-to-49.

The network has been loathe to return its only entry in the daypart to affils, from whom there’s been “no significant pressure” to dump “Vicki,” a spokesman said. But the web has never been entirely behind its foray into daytime either: No senior Fox programming execs trekked to a relaunch party at the show’s New York studio last month, and none were available to comment about the cancellation.

Sources say network execs appeared surprised at the difficulty of launching a show in daytime, where the primary audience is older women, despite a primetime promotional base that’s strongest among younger men.

“We believe the best course of immediate action is to allow affiliates to find a suitable replacement more befitting their individual markets” while allowing the network to “focus our entire efforts in maximizing gains” in primetime, an unattributed network statement said.

Short notice

Some affils said they were less put off by the show’s demise than by the move’s timing, which came with no warning just two weeks after the start of the syndication season, well after desirable potential replacement series have been sold into their markets.

“I have mixed emotions about it,” said Stuart Powell, G.M. at WXIX Cincinnati. “I’m not sure ‘Vicki Lawrence’ was ever the answer, but if the decision were to come down I would have liked more notice.” Powell said he’s scrambling to find a suitable show to fill the schedule at least until the next crop of syndicated series are available 50 weeks from now. “The timing is very inconvenient; two weeks is not a lot of time to acquire a show.”

Syndicators already are pouncing on Fox affils, attempting to clear second-tier shows such as All American Television’s “Arthel & Fred,” and Columbia TriStar Television already has sold “The Dating/Newlywed Hour” to O&Os WNYW New York and KRIV Houston, apparently to fill later timeslots. Other stations are likely to plug in off-network sitcoms or double run new series, as is allowed under many station contracts, with KTVU San Francisco planning a second airing of “Ricki Lake.”

“I think it was a very wise decision … to concentrate their resources,” KTVU G.M. Kevin O’Brien said. “It was just too much effort for the return.”

“Vicki” isn’t the only trouble spot on many Fox stations. The O&O group and some affils also are struggling with Twentieth Television’s “Home Team With Terry Bradshaw,” which follows “Vicki” on many stations and is off to a weak start. Twentieth also produced “Vicki” and “After Breakfast,” which began as a two-hour show on the FX cable network. Ironically, former “After Breakfast” host Tom Bergeron this week becomes the official substitute anchor on another troubled ayem show, ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

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