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Bochco Takes Over Hit Series

October 08, 2005|Scott Collins | Times Staff Writer

Backstage intrigue and power struggles are rocking the Oval Office -- and that's after just two airings of ABC's "Commander in Chief."

Walt Disney Co.'s Touchstone Television, which produces "Commander in Chief" for ABC, another Disney unit, Friday replaced Rod Lurie -- the writer-producer who created the series about the nation's first female president -- with producer Steven Bochco of "Hill Street Blues" and "NYPD Blue" fame.

Lurie had been the new program's "show runner" -- the producer with day-to-day creative control.

In a statement, Touchstone Television said that Lurie, a former Los Angeles magazine film critic who also created the short-lived drama "Line of Fire" for ABC, "will retain his executive producer title on the series and will focus his energies on developing new projects under his new overall deal with Touchstone Television."

Behind-the-scenes changes are common on low-rated shows. But "Commander," which stars Geena Davis as President Mackenzie Allen, is an early fall season hit. Already the most-watched new show this fall, the program is averaging 16.7 million viewers since its Sept. 27 premiere, according to Nielsen Media Research.

However, the show has attracted a higher-than-usual proportion of viewers over 50, which is anathema to many youth-obsessed advertisers. To grow into a long-term asset, the series probably needs to develop a larger following among younger viewers.

Still, switching producers is risky at a time when most new series are still finding their way creatively. ABC differed with Lurie over the creative direction of the show, according to people familiar with the situation, although the nature of those divisions is unclear. In addition, one source said, executives became unhappy when the producers were late in delivering finished episodes.

In an interview Tuesday, ABC entertainment chief Stephen McPherson had denied any creative problems and batted down speculation that Lurie might be replaced.

Representatives of Lurie and Bochco referred calls to Touchstone, which declined to comment beyond its statement.

The main question is how Bochco, a strong-willed and innovative producer who is known for putting his thumbprint on shows, will handle a series created and developed by someone else.

"I have always been a huge Rod Lurie fan and I'm excited about working with my new partners at Touchstone in helping to realize Touchstone's and Rod Lurie's vision," Bochco said in the statement released by Touchstone.

The statement quoted Lurie as saying: "I've been a huge fan of Steven Bochco's for over two decades. I'm blown-away excited to see how much more he will electrify 'Commander In Chief.' "

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