Net also eyes 'JAG' spinoff

The spirits on “Touched by an Angel” have been called home by CBS, while the net is investigating the possibility of a “JAG” spinoff.

Even as Eye execs touted the net’s season-to-date Nielsen successes, the net announced Monday that the long-running Roma Downey/Della Reese drama — one of the net’s few hits in the mid-1990s — would leave the air after this season.

At its peak, “Touched” attracted 27 million viewers with an episode in November 1997. Show was a top 10 program with total viewers for four seasons (and the No. 2 drama in all of TV for three straight years), when it aired in the Sunday night post-“60 Minutes” timeslot.

More recently relegated to Saturdays, the show has averaged 8.1 million viewers this season.

CBS topper Leslie Moonves told reporters gathered at the Television Critics Assn. press tour that the CBS Prods. skein would get a two-hour sendoff in May.

“This show’s imprint on primetime deserves special recognition,” said Moonves, who noted that “Angel” was one of CBS’ few success stories when he joined the net in 1995.

How to say goodbye?

Exec producer Martha Williamson said she was still figuring out how to end her 9-year-old show.

Not only did “Angel” keep the lights on at CBS during some lean years, but its off-net repeats helped launch the Pax TV service. Pax initially paid a hefty $950,000 per episode for backend rights to the show, which has more recently moved to the Hallmark Channel.

“We have thousands of letters from people who said, ‘Your show changed my life,’ ” Williamson said. “We’ll have substantial stories to tell about ‘Touched’ once this is over.”

“Touched” will air its 200th episode next month.

Meanwhile, Moonves and CBS Entertainment prexy Nancy Tellem announced plans to develop a “JAG” spinoff later this season.

Project, from “JAG” creator Don Bellisario, will revolve around Naval criminal investigators.

“For those of you who are saying, ‘Gee, they’re not introducing a new ‘CSI’ (next season), well, maybe we are,” Moonves quipped.

The spinoff’s characters and plotline will be introduced on “JAG” later this season, but none of the show’s current cast members are expected to segue to the new show. Also, CBS execs have not decided whether the spinoff will be branded as a “JAG” series in the vein of “Law & Order” and “CSI” spinoffs.

Spinoff fever

Spinoff mania seems to have gripped the Tuesday at 8 p.m. timeslot. “JAG” airs opposite the WB’s “Gilmore Girls,” which is also plotting a spinoff for next season, and UPN’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which is considering a spinoff if star Sarah Michelle Gellar doesn’t return.

Overall, Moonves and Tellem painted an upbeat portrait of the Eye’s health midseason 2003, once again stressing the net’s mandate to focus on all viewers rather than the industry standard of adults 18-49.

Moonves noted that the Eye boasts the top three new shows in household rating, and said the trio of frosh — “Without a Trace,” “CSI: Miami” and “Still Standing” — are all but sure to make it to their sophomore years.

“If I was a betting man, I’d put a few bucks on that,” Moonves said.

CBS projects

Also at the CBS portion of the TCA press tour:

  • Moonves confirmed that American Express and a few other advertisers have asked for “war clauses” in ad contracts that give clients make-good ads for spots that air during primetime coverage of a potential war with Iraq.

  • Moonves said he’s confident Ray Romano will agree to come back for another season of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” The show’s license is up after this season.

    Romano’s “negotiating in the press,” Moonves said of scuttlebutt that the comedian may not want to return. “We think there’s going to be more ‘Everybody Loves Raymond.’ ”

  • CBS’ controversial Hitler miniseries “Origins of Evil” is still slated to air in May, the network said. Moonves said the net will make a charitable contribution to a Holocaust memorial charity in conjunction with the pic’s broadcast and also air a postscript detailing the effects of Hitler’s acts on society, as well as anti-hate PSAs.

    In addition, exec said the Eye has thrown out the first script of the pic, and a new draft will draw less heavily on the Ian Kershaw books that had been the basis of the mini, in development since last year (Daily Variety, Jan. 22).

  • Eye will premiere “Survivor: The Amazon” on Thursday, Feb. 13, with a 90-minute edition, followed by an equally supersized 90-minute “CSI” at 9:30 p.m. that night.

    Network also revealed a twist: For the first time, contestants will be paired off into all-male and all-female tribes.

  • CBS also confirmed a Monday, Feb. 24, premiere and permanent Sunday slot for Nia Vardalos’ “My Big Fat Greek Life” (Daily Variety, Jan. 13) as well as February sweeps stunts, including a Kelsey Grammer visit opposite his old “Cheers” castmate Ted Danson on the Feb. 16 “Becker.”

    Speaking of reunions, Sharon Gless will meet up with her “Cagney & Lacey” partner Tyne Daly on the Feb. 11 “Judging Amy.” Rosie O’Donnell is also slated to guest on “Amy” Feb. 25.

  • Moonves touted the net’s ad sales, boasting a cost per thousand (CPM) bump of between 15% and 30% in first quarter 2003 compared to the net’s solid upfront intake.

    “All categories have been spending,” he said. “We are thriving across the board.”

  • Moonves said “60 Minutes” leader Don Hewitt would remain at CBS, although he declined to elaborate in what capacity.
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