'Nothing Sacred': Profile in Arrogance

A couple of weeks ago, a major television network made an announcement about its lowest-rated weekly series, whose subject matter had insulted tens of millions and led to a national boycott causing dozens of sponsors to pull their advertising dollars. If you're assuming the announcement dealt with the show's cancellation, you are blessed with common sense and, therefore, are unfit to be an ABC executive. Yes, Disney/ABC has renewed its virulently anti-Catholic, rarely watched drama "Nothing Sacred" for the rest of the season.

To examine this situation is to understand the arrogant nature of the Michael Eisner empire.

1. Defenders of "Nothing Sacred" contend that its poor ratings result from its time slot opposite a powerhouse NBC lineup. It's a very weak excuse. The first half of the show competes with "Friends," an uphill task to be sure, but the second half goes up against the far less popular "Union Square." One might assume that "Friends" viewers who choose not to remain with NBC would gravitate to another campy series, like "Nothing Sacred." But they don't. The Thursday 8 o'clock offering that does pick up plenty of viewers at 8:30 is CBS's family-friendly "Promised Land" - which, unsurprisingly, has clobbered "Nothing Sacred" in the Nielsens all season.

2. Based on the pathetic ratings "Nothing Sacred" is getting, it should have been scrapped already. Indeed, ABC has dropped series whose ratings were decidedly better than those of "Nothing Sacred." Last year, the network dumped "Second Noah," (another non-star-driven drama in a tough time slot, airing opposite "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman"). The wholesome "Second Noah" consistently drew a much larger audience than has the sordid "Nothing Sacred," but "Second Noah" was canceled while "Nothing Sacred" was given new life to offend again. And this October, ABC axed the new family sitcom "You Wish," which at its cancellation was the 63rd-highest rated series of the season. "Nothing Sacred" ranked 85th, yet survived.

3. The ratings for "Nothing Sacred" are miserable in spite of a massive advertising campaign, the kind of which rescued ABC's struggling "Ellen." But even after an avalanche of favorable reviews from TV critics and the network's promotional blitz (how many other series get full-page ads in the New York Times, USA Today, and other large newspapers?) "Nothing Sacred" remains a Nielsen disaster. The October 2 episode was the week's fourth-lowest-rated program on the four full-time networks. Fast-forward to November 13; that night's installment was?the week's fourth-lowest rated program on the four full-time networks. A dud is a dud is a dud. And for "Nothing Sacred," nothing works.

4. William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, is correct when he claims that Disney/ABC has an "ideological investment" in "Nothing Sacred." That investment must be substantial, given that in financial terms, the show has sprung quite a few leaks. At this writing, twenty-eight sponsors have withdrawn; the most recent casualty was Paul Mitchell Systems, whose spokeswoman said, "We certainly had no intention of insulting or offending Roman Catholics." ABC is pretending this pullout is not hurting the show, claiming all its advertising time is already committed. But that's more obfuscation. So desperate is the network that it is giving time to "per inquiry" advertisers, whose spots contain an 800 number and, according to the Hollywood Reporter, are "generally viewed as lower-valued, lesser-status... messages." ABC also is filling space with movie trailers.

5. Television critics continue to fawn over "Nothing Sacred," proving just how little they understand the public pulse. In its November 17 issue, Electronic Media unveiled the results of its annual critics' poll, and "Nothing Sacred" was voted the sixth-best series, the highest finish of any fall debut. In the article accompanying the poll results, the Kansas City Star's Aaron Barnhart asserted that the show is "head and shoulders above?'Touched By an Angel' and '7th Heaven'" - because these religion-themed series, damn them, treat religion sympathetically. An editorial in the November 22 TV Guide, headlined "'Nothing Sacred' Deserves Support, Not Censure," called the program "high-minded" and labeled the Catholic League's assessment of it "preposterous."

6. "Nothing Sacred" gives the boycott of Disney, endorsed by groups with a total membership of more than 23 million, yet another reason for being. Given Disney's long record of offenses - "Priest," "Ellen" and the company's overall pro-gay agenda, and so on - canceling this very unpopular show would be a small gesture indeed. Disney won't do even that.

So we have a television program that has offended tens of millions. It has a tiny audience and few sponsors. The company responsible for it is taking a public-relations beating. Nonetheless, Disney/ABC stays with "Nothing Sacred" and junks better-rated series. This has nothing to do with quality. This is simply a giant corporation's ongoing attempt to insult Catholics at all costs.