BASEBALL PLAYERS ARE USED TO abrupt trades. But network stars with loyal audiences usually merit gentler treatment. Not this year. When the fall schedules were announced this spring, one TV icon had been moved from her accustomed Sunday slot while another Nielsen heavyweight was being transplanted to the very same time period. Both actors were furious.
The star with the bigger beef is Angela Lansbury. After 11 years, her sturdy Sabbath war horse, Murder, She Wrote, has been bumped to Thursday nights. (Good luck, going up against the NBC juggernaut, Angela.) She was a victim of CBS’s youth movement. The network has broken up its winning Sunday night tandem of 60 Minutes and Murder, She Wrote in order to send a message to advertisers that it was aggressively going after the universally coveted young adult demographic. (Two sitcoms, Cybill and Almost Perfect, will assume the time period.) And what clearer message can you send than serving up the silvery head of Angela Lansbury on a sacrificial platter? In an interview shortly after the changes were announced, the 69-year-old actress described herself as “angry,” “heartbroken” and “shattered.” Two years ago, CBS was obsequiously wooing Lansbury to continue making Murder, She Wrote. Now she doesn’t fit into their plans. How quickly the winds shift in prime time.
Just ask Paul Reiser. Last year, his sitcom Mad About You was snugly wedged into NBC’s monster Thursday-night lineup. Then hours before the new season schedule was announced in May, he found out he was being banished to what has traditionally been one of that network’s weakest neighborhoods: Sunday. NBC’s Warren Little-field explains the network strategy. “We saw an opportunity to create a beachhead on Sunday in the same way we did with Frasier last year on Tuesday,” says the network’s entertainment czar (and chief metaphor mixer). “The clear magnet into this night is Mad About You.” Despite that vote of confidence, Reiser was so angry, he pointedly skipped the fall presentation ceremony at which he was to introduce Littlefield. ER’s George Clooney, whose show remains solidly riveted at 10 p.m. on Thursdays, was flown in as a last-second replacement.