ABC Turns To News To Bolster Ratings

The combination of a ratings slide and the popularity of news programs in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks have prompted ABC to add another prime time news program to its lineup.

America '01 (formerly called 24/7) launches tomorrow in the 8 pm time slot. No host has been announced, but the show will include reports from top anchors including Barbara Walters, Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer. They will report on a variety of issues relating to the terrorist attacks and the latest news.

Jeff Lindsey, a network spokesman in Burbank, says the increased appetite for news programs is the reason ABC will run the show. He mentions that news has been popular on ABC and many other networks since Sept. 11. Last week's PrimeTime Thursday on ABC, with an interview of a relative of Osama bin Laden, was the number one news magazine for adults 18 to 49 for the week. It was also the largest audience ever for a program opposite an original episode of E.R. on NBC and the second largest audience in the history of the program.

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The fact that America '01 is running on Friday presents a problem, since ABC's 20/20, now running on Wednesdays, will be returned to its original Friday spot in December. The network doesn't want two news magazines on the same night, so it says it will move America '01 in December, although it hasn't decided when it will run.

20/20 had been moved from Fridays to accommodate ABC's new fall schedule, but the failure of its lineup, including the cancellation of the reality show The Mole, prompts the network to return 20/20 to Fridays. 20/20 will most likely run Wednesdays and Fridays in December.

Roy Rothstein, vice president director of national broadcast research at Zenith Media, attributes ABC's move to the fact it's having a bad season. "We predicted they'd have a terrible season," he says. Since the fall season began, ABC shows have disappeared from the top of the Nielsen ratings. Even Millionaire has dropped out, after leading the way all summer.

Rothstein also attributes the move to the fact that it's easier and quicker to develop news than entertainment. "It's cheaper than a regular series and can be put together faster. It takes six months to a year to develop a series."

ABC declined to discuss advertising on America '01. It refused to say how many minutes of advertising there will be, whether advertising has been sold and who the advertisers will be.

In other news news, CNN says Newsnight with Aaron Brown will debut next Monday at 10 pm. The show has already been running in the same time slot, but not as an official show. In a release filed yesterday, CNN says that Brown had planned to start a show in October, but began reports right after the Sept. 11 attacks.

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