‘Blue’ in ’20/20′ slot as newsmags retreat

'We'll survive this,' sez Walters

NEW YORK — If ABC can persuade Steven Bochco to ramp up production on “NYPD Blue,” Barbara Walters may get a seven-week vacation — and she’s fine with that.

ABC plans to preempt Walters’ “20/20” for a good chunk of the fall in order to give “Once and Again” a chance to grow in the program’s traditional timeslot Fridays at 10 p.m. (Daily Variety, May 14). Newsmag will move to Wednesdays nights at 10 until November, when it could be “rested” to make way for “Blue.” Alphabet execs are talking to “Blue” exec producer Steven Bochco about getting production under way sooner on the cop skein so that it could return in time for November sweeps.

“I’m not in a fetal position under the desk. Would I be happier if we just stayed on? Of course. But there was a time we were moved from Thursday to Friday and we survived,” Walters told Daily Variety. “We’ll survive this.”

Competitors jumped on the news as an opportunity to snipe that the “20/20” shift shows Walters and ABC News prexy David Westin don’t hold much weight at the Alphabet web.

“They’re walking all over Westin,” said one exec at a competing newsmag.

Walters is not convinced “20/20” will be bumped off the air.

“There are a lot of ifs,” she said, noting that if “Once and Again” doesn’t perform in the Friday night slot, “20/20” could move there once “NYPD Blue” debuts.

The staff of “20/20” will remain intact, said Walters, who will host a “20/20” spec in November. “It’s a unique celebrity special, unlike anything we’ve ever done before.”

Newsmag has aired Friday nights since 1987, but the veteran journalist is confident the audience will find the show wherever it airs.

“I’m going to be fine and the program is going to be fine,” she said. “We may even pick up some people on Wednesday who haven’t sampled us on Friday.”

Besides, there’s an upside to the down time, said Walters. “After I got over being surprised, I thought, ‘How wonderful. Seven weeks off, I’ve never had that in my life.’ ”

With the rise of reality programs, newsmags, which had proliferated on the nets’ primetime skeds, are in decline.

“The reality is reality programs have taken the place of newsmags in many respects,” said NBC Entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker. “A few years ago, newsmags were taking up the shelf space of scripted dramas. Now reality programs have taken up the shelf space of newsmags.”

NBC announced Monday that it will air “Dateline NBC” three times a week in primetime compared to four last fall.

Season to date, “20/20” has averaged 11.5 million viewers and a 3.8/11 in adults 18-49, down slightly from last year. While it performed sluggishly at the start of the season following ABC’s soft Friday lineup, the newsmag picked up once it got a “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” lead-in in February.

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