Executives at Walt Disney Company’s ailing TV network ABC conceded they made a number of mistakes contributing to its dismal performance this season.

Overall ratings tumbled 24% compared with last season, and ABC now has the lowest share among the major networks of the advertiser-friendly 18–49 age group. “Clearly, we are in the midst of a very disappointing season,” admitted ABC Entertainment Television chairman Lloyd Braun in a meeting with TV critics and reporters. “Our rebuilding challenge is significant.”

The major mistake, said Braun, was becoming dependent on quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire, the once all-conquering program that made ABC the most-watched network two years ago.

By scheduling the show four nights a week last season, ABC risked overexposing it to audiences, a danger borne out by falling popularity this year. “We have paid a heavy price this season for that,” admitted Braun.

There was more contrition to come, this time from Susan Lyne, newly promoted to president of ABC Entertainment as part of the overhaul announced last week [WAMN: 08-Jan-02].

Lyne admitted that, in her previous role in charge of mini-series and movies, she should have prevented ABC passing up the chance to show a 25th anniversary special about Roots, the acclaimed series on slavery. “If anyone should have fought for this at the network it should have been me, and I just didn’t think of it,” she confessed. A Roots special will instead be shown on NBC.

Separately, press reports suggest that ABC Family – the channel acquired from NewsCorp as part of last year’s purchase of Fox Family Worldwide [WAMN: 23-Jul-01] – will shed up to 300 jobs, about half its workforce. The bulk of the layoffs are expected to be administrative and support staff.

News sources: New York Times; MediaWeek.com (US)