Producer irked that ABC plans 'NYPD' shift

“NYPD Blue” creator/exec producer Steven Bochco is seeing red over the possibility that ABC might bump his hit cop skein out of its established 10 p.m. Tuesday slot in favor of frosh drama “Once and Again.”

In a face-to-face meeting Wednesday morning, ABC Entertainment Television Group co-chairman Stu Bloomberg told Bochco that the Alphabet web is seriously considering keeping Touchstone Television’s “Once” on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. for the rest of the season. “Blue” could return as early as December, but ABC had no firm idea in which timeslot, Bochco said Bloomberg told him.

The confrontation comes as industry insiders confirm ABC is ready to give “Once” a formal 22-episode full-season order.

An ABC spokesman declined comment, as did Bloomberg. However, network insiders said Bochco was overreacting since no final decision on scheduling has yet been made, thus leaving open the possibility that “Blue” could return as planned Nov. 9. Bloomberg apparently made the visit to Bochco out of respect for the two men’s long-standing personal relationship.

Not a believer

Bochco, however, isn’t buying ABC’s line that a decision has not yet been made.

“I said to Stu, ‘I’ll bet you $1,000 in nickels that you’ve decided. This is a fait accompli,’ ” Bochco told Daily Variety. “You know the joke that the cat’s on the roof? This is a dead cat, and they’re breaking it to us slowly.”

While “Once” debuted to solid ratings last month, the critically lauded hour has since drifted downward, scoring its lowest Nielsen tally yet this week opposite CBS’ surging newcomer “Judging Amy.” Still, the series has done better than any other new skein ABC has tested out recently in the Tuesday timeslot, consistently outperforming all other entertainment series competish in the advertiser-friendly demo of adults 18-49.

ABC execs have also been worried about “Blue’s” slipping ratings as the show enters its seventh season. While still a solid demo performer, “Blue” took a noticeable Nielsen dip last season, in part because of ABC’s continued inability to find a strong lead-in for it.

Acknowledging that he might be “burning bridges” by speaking out so vocally, Bochco went on to condemn ABC brass for even mulling the idea of bumping “Blue.”

“It’s cynical and it’s disrespectful and it’s amazing to me,” he said. “We were a hit show in a solid timeslot with a loyal audience, and to just cynically jack us out of there and essentially kiss us off is outrageous.”

Moreover, Bochco seemed particularly galled that ABC refused to lay out a firm timetable for when and where “Blue” would come back should ABC decide to keep “Once” Tuesdays at 10.

“If you’re going to come to us (with the idea), at least have an alternative plan,” he said.

Bochco said he believes ABC’s decision-making process is being driven by the demands of vertical integration, since “Once” is produced by Touchstone, which, like the ABC network, is part of the Disney-owned ABC Television Entertainment Group. Bloomberg insisted to Bochco that ownership was not a factor, but Bochco disagrees.

“To yank us for a show you own and then insult my intelligence by saying that’s not a factor — come on,” Bochco said.

Bochco also faulted government deregulation for giving webs too much power. “This is the inevitable result of letting networks own, produce and syndicate their own shows,” he said. “These are the kinds of behaviors that result.”

ABC insiders said Wednesday that several scenarios for solving the “Blue”/”Once” problem are under discussion.

One possibility is delaying “Blue’s” seventh season premiere until Nov. 23, allowing the show to run without repeats for several months. “Once” might then move to Mondays at 10 p.m. come January, following the end of the NFL season. ABC insiders are worried, however, that CBS’ “Amy” would inherit much of “Once’s” femme audience if the male-skewing “Blue” returns to Tuesdays.

ABC might also simply delay “Blue’s” bow until January and schedule the veteran cop drama in that same Monday timeslot.

Wednesday and Thursday nights at 10 p.m. are also long shot possibilities for “Blue,” though both slots are problematic. ABC News has fought mightily to hold on to Wednesdays at 10 for “20/20″ and anchor Diane Sawyer, while 10 p.m. Thursdays would pit “Blue” against the fading but still mighty “ER” juggernaut on NBC.

If ABC can’t find an acceptable slot for “Blue,” Bochco said he’d rather be free to shop his show to another web.

“I said (to Bloomberg), ‘Cancel me now’ and let me find a (better home).”

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