Well-liked ABC sitcom having timeslot issues

In order to fulfill their mission to rob Mick Jagger, the underdogs known as “The Knights of Prosperity” have needed to operate in stealth mode.

Unfortunately for them, ABC’s sitcom detailing their adventures is succeeding all too well at flying under the radar. The past two weeks have brought a double dose of decidedly unprosperous news for the goofy but likeable show.

“Knights” premiered Jan. 3 to a 9 p.m. Wednesday audience of 7.2 million viewers. The program then had one week to build upon that foundation before facing the show-eating beast known as “American Idol” on Jan. 17.

But in what lead Knight Eugene Gerkin (Donal Logue) would undoubtedly consider another example of the world conspiring against him, President Bush had to go and speak to the U.S. about his Iraq policy Jan. 10, right when the second episode of “Knights” was to air on the East Coast.

Rather than preempt the seg, ABC delayed it in the New York time zone. The show did air in its normal timeslot in Los Angeles, but amid enough confusion that it dropped out of TiVo’s schedule as well as listings in newspapers including the Los Angeles Times. Viewership fell 28% to 5.2 million.

Last week, “Knights” finally faced its doomsday in “Idol” and got Simonized, shedding another 1.4 million viewers to drop to 3.8 million. Moreover, random conversations around town revealed that folks who had been won over by the pilot were left confused or annoyed by Week 3 developments that played off a previous episode they weren’t even aware of.

In a cutthroat fight for viewers, launching “Knights” has proven a greater challenge than disarming Mick’s security system. ABC delayed the series premiere from its original Oct. 17 date to better market it — only to then throw it to the “Idol” wolves. Another program delayed from ABC’s original fall schedule, “Notes From the Underbelly,” might be better off for still languishing offscreen.

From its inception, “Knights” faced an uphill battle gaining traction, with its decidedly offbeat premise — you might call it “24” meets the bar regulars from “Cheers” — a visual style that will remind you as much of ’70s cop dramas as anything, a main antagonist (Jagger) who would not commit to any episodes beyond the pilot, and a sense of humor that merges lowbrow and highbrow in unfamiliar ways. For the most part, the formula seems to be working critically, but with recent events, it all adds up to a lot for the Knights to joust against.

With 10 more produced episodes of “Knights” already in the vault, including tonight’s, you can feel ABC’s yearning for the show to somehow defy the odds and kick in with the masses. One thing in the Alphabet web’s favor? If ABC ever lacks for hope, it can always turn to Eugene Gerkin, the lowly janitor dreaming of scheming his way to millions.

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