"Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" has made her last regular house call, leaving both fans and the program's star expressing confusion and outrage over CBS' decision to cancel the western series after six seasons.
CBS announced its prime-time schedule for the coming TV season last week, dropping "Dr. Quinn" from the Saturday lineup. Instead, the network will move "Early Edition" into the 8 p.m. slot that the show has occupied since 1993, introducing a new series titled "Martial Law," starring martial arts expert Sammo Hung, at 9 p.m., leading into "Walker, Texas Ranger."
Series star Jane Seymour issued a statement through her publicist saying she was "stunned and devastated" by the news, adding that she felt a loss not only for her family on the show but also for "all the millions of people out there who valued 'Dr. Quinn' as something they could share with their children, entertainment they could share and values they could share."
Numerous fans expressed similar opinions on Seymour's Web site, with many pleading that the network not remove what one called "the only decent show left on television."
Some "Dr. Quinn" supporters even threatened to boycott CBS if the series didn't return, citing its strong sense of morality and their ability to view the program with their children.
"At a time when the networks are coming under increasing scrutiny for the amount of violence and sleaze across the dial, 'Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman' has been the one shining star, a truly well-written, intelligent program for the entire family," wrote the Odom family of Orlando, Fla., on the Web site.
CBS has approached Seymour and the program's creator, producer Beth Sullivan, about producing a two-hour "Dr. Quinn" movie that would wrap up the series. As yet, it's unclear whether that will happen.
Network officials stress that the decision hinged on financial concerns and internal pressure exercised by the stations CBS owns in big cities, who have pushed to offer programming that appeals to a younger, more urban audience.
The CBS network will probably lose money next season, paying $500 million for broadcast rights to NFL football alone. The network's new management team has thus put more emphasis on its local TV stations, which represent CBS' profit center.
"Dr. Quinn" averaged a respectable 11.7 million viewers this season, down about 9% from last year; however, the program performed better in the South than in the major media centers where CBS owns stations, and, most significantly, fared poorly among adults age 18 to 49--the demographic for which advertisers pay the highest premium--often ranking third or fourth in its time slot by that measure.
"We weren't making money on the show," said a network source.
Data from ratings service Nielsen Media Research shows that CBS' audience is, on average, the oldest among the major networks, trailing NBC, Fox and ABC among the brackets most sought by media buyers, which is reflected in its prime-time revenues.
CBS officials have fought an uphill battle contending that advertisers have lagged behind the changing demographic profile of the United States, especially with the baby boom generation heading into their 50s.
So far, however, that argument hasn't persuaded most media buyers. The television industry thus remains driven to attract people under 55, either because sponsors who spend the most on advertising target those viewers--such as movie studios touting their latest releases--or because advertisers want to invest in reaching younger consumers, hoping to turn them into lifelong buyers of their brands.
A CBS spokesman called the cancellation of "Dr. Quinn" "one of the cruel realities of our business," assuring fans that it was "not a decision we took lightly."
A "Save Dr. Quinn" campaign has nevertheless begun, and supporters of another rural-skewing CBS show that failed to make the cut for fall, "The Magnificent Seven," also continue to lobby on its behalf. Pooling their money, a group of fans who met on the Internet will place an ad in USA Today this week, urging viewers to contact their local CBS stations. Organizers hope CBS affiliates will take up their cause at the annual meeting of station managers and the network, which begins today in Los Angeles.