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TNT MAY CLOSE BOOK ON BIBLE PIX

ANAHEIM – TNT’s love affair with the Bible may be coming to an end.

That’s the word from Brad Siegel, president of TNT, who said at a news conference Wednesday during the opening day of the Western Cable Show that the Good Book is getting some bad books from an even higher power: A.C. Nielsen.

The disappointing ratings of Part One of the “Samson & Delilah” four-hour miniseries, which ran Sunday, Dec. 8, on top of equally underwhelming ratings for the four hours of “Moses” in April 1996, have caused TNT to take another look at whether it should go ahead with “Solomon,” the contemplated seventh in the TNT Biblical cycle, Siegel said. The sixth of the Old Testament epics, “David,” starring Jonathan Pryce and Leonard Nimoy, has completed production and will run on TNT in April 1997.

The subpar Nielsens for the Bible movies are an anomaly for TNT because the network is coming off its best ratings year ever, according to a Nielsen analysis by Barry Koch, VP of research for Turner Entertainment Networks. The 2.1 rating harvested by TNT in cable homes for 1996, through Dec. 1, makes it the top-rated basic-cable network for the year, with USA in second place (a 2.0 rating), TBS in third (1.9), Nick at Nite fourth (1.8) and ESPN fifth (1.6).

TNT also ended up the No. 1 primetime cable network for 1996 in adults 18 to 49 and in adults 25 to 54, Koch said.

Siegel cited the $550 million Turner has pumped into the purchase of theatrical movies and series since early 1993 as a big factor in the Nielsen growth of TNT, as well as Sunday-night National Football League games and two National Basketball Assn. games a week plus an exhaustive schedule of NBA playoff games. TNT also has the highest-rated weekly primetime series on cable, the “WCW Monday Nitro” wrestling matches.

Highlights for 1997 are TNT’s first exclusive original weekly series “The New Adventures of Robin Hood,” filmed in the style of the MCA TV syndicated hits “Hercules” and “Xena,” which kicks off Jan. 13, and reruns of Warner Bros. Domestic’s “Lois & Clark,” which begins in September as a 7 p.m. strip. Siegel said he looks on “Lois & Clark” as “TNT reaping the benefits of the Time Warner merger.”

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