WB, USA rush to save ‘La Femme’

Failure of new skeins to generate ratings causing exex to rethink decision

NEW YORK — Negotiators for Warner Bros. Domestic and the USA Network are working feverishly to resurrect “La Femme Nikita” from what looks like a premature burial.

“Nikita,” the TV series adaptation of the 1990 hit French movie, received its official cancellation notice in May after a solid 88-episode run on the USA network. Series was losing money for its distributor, Warner Bros., which couldn’t justify keeping it in production for another year.

But over the last few weeks, original episodes of “Nikita” airing Sundays at 10 have continued to harvest a sizable crop of cable subscribers, averaging close to a 2 rating in USA homes despite limited promotion.

By contrast, three of the network’s four fresh primetime series — “The War Next Door” (Sundays at 9), “Manhattan, AZ” (Sundays at 9:30) and “Cover Me” (Wednesdays from 9-10) — have disappointed, hovering between a 1 and a 1.5 rating in cable homes. The fourth newcomer, “The Huntress” (Wednesdays from 10-11), is a bright spot, averaging in the high 1’s.

While the new series’ Nielsens are keeping USA execs swallowing fistfuls of Prozac, the network is just a month away from losing its two massive audience generators: the World Wrestling Federation series Mondays from 9-11, which chalks up a stunning 6 rating in cable homes, and the WWF hour Sunday at 7, which averages between a 2.5 and a 3 rating.

So it’s not surprising that known commodities like “Nikita” have suddenly taken on heightened importance, propelling USA and Warner Bros. Distribution to reconvene at the bargaining table to tear up the May pinkslip and prepare to greenlight another 22 hours for 2001.

Warner Bros. and USA declined to comment on the “Nikita” talks, but sources said the two parties could cement the deal by the middle of the week. The series stars Peta Wilson in the title role and Roy Dupuis as her mentor. Toronto-based Fireworks Entertainment produces it, and company owner Jay Firestone is executive producer of “Nikita.” Series consultants are Joel Surnow, Lawrence Hertzog and Robert Cochran.

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