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ABC to Continue 'Monk,' Delay Airing 'Dinotopia'

September 14, 2002|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Extending a novel experiment initiated this summer, ABC will continue running the USA Network series "Monk" on Thursday nights well into the new TV season--after the episodes play on cable--allowing ABC to delay the premiere of its special effects-laden project "Dinotopia" until Thanksgiving night.

The maneuver is a financial and scheduling boon to Walt Disney Co.-owned ABC, which faced the daunting prospect of introducing eight series this fall. Sources say the deal to rerun "Monk" costs the network about $300,000 per episode--a little more than one-fourth the average fee networks pay producers of new dramatic series.

Moreover, "Dinotopia" has been laboring to meet a targeted early-October premiere date because of the elaborate visual effects on the series, set in a world where dinosaurs and humans live side by side. Postponing the show until Thanksgiving--a night of high family viewing--also will let ABC offer new episodes in December, a period when competing programs such as "Friends" on General Electric Co.-owned NBC are in reruns.

"Monk," starring Tony Shalhoub as an obsessive-compulsive detective, provided ABC with a rare bright spot this summer. Four episodes shown against News Corp.-owned Fox's hit "American Idol" finished a solid second in that hour, averaging 8.3 million viewers--far more than had been watching it on USA, a unit of Vivendi Universal.

Although several network programs repeat on cable, it's rare to reverse that equation. In fact, sources say ABC officials wanted to flip the window so the series would run on ABC first--a proposal rejected by USA.

"It's our hit," USA Network President Doug Herzog said. "You can't give them away."

ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne said, "What started off as a nice little summer experiment paid off more than we expected it to."

ABC also has sought to expand the order beyond the initial 13 episodes, but USA balked at that as well, believing that the current number was sufficient to meet its programming needs.

"Monk" is produced by Touchstone Television, another division of Disney that offered the program to ABC first. The network passed but negotiated the right to repeat episodes after USA ran them.

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