Once and Again...Once Again
SOS PRESS COVERAGE
Fans of canceled ABC series "Once and Again" have spent thousands of dollars for a billboard ad to step up efforts to bring back the show.
The faces of series stars Sela Ward and Billy Campbell are smiling down on a major West Hollywood intersection, thanks to efforts by the fans, who have been successful in past efforts to save the low-rated show. "Dear ABC, Bring back the magic 'Once and Again,'" the billboard reads.
The ad cost more than $12,500, which was raised by fan donations, a spokeswoman for the fans said. It will stay up for one month.
ABC announced the cancellation of the critically acclaimed series in March. The show premiered in September 1999 and has followed the romance of divorced parents Lily and Rick, played by Ward and Campbell, as they began a new life together.
Fans are lobbying ABC in hopes that it will change its decision before May 14, when the network announces its fall lineup to advertisers.__ Yahoo.com (May 2, 2002)
Fans of the ABC drama Once and Again have taken their campaign to save the show to the streets. The "Save Once and Again Campaign" paid $12,000 to rent a billboard at the intersection of La Cienega Drive and Halloway Drive in West Hollywood. ABC declined to renew the show for a fourth
season.__ USA Today (May 2, 2002)
Fans of the canceled ABC series Once and Again spending more than $12,000 on a Hollywood billboard asking the network to bring back the show. __ E! Online (May 2, 2002)
Die-hard fans of Once and Again won't give up on supercouple Sela Ward and Billy Campbell. A group of drama devotees has raised over $20,000 in fan donations to erect a billboard in L.A.'s West Hollywood as well as buy ads in the Tinseltown trade papers - all in hopes of moving ABC to renew the show for a fourth season. __ TVguide.com (May 2, 2002)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (AP) - "Once and Again" fans are taking their campaign to revive the canceled ABC drama to the street.
A billboard pleading with the network to "Bring back the magic, Once and Again," went up Thursday at a West Hollywood intersection.
The $12,350 monthly cost of the billboard was subsidized through donations collected by a fan site that Marc Levenson, a Fort Worth, Texas, businessman, helps run.
"Even if (the series) isn't renewed, we will be directly in Michael Eisner's face for a month!" Web master Melinda O'Brien says on the site. Eisner is chairman and chief executive of The Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC.
Despite repeated entreaties by fans, the network has said it's sticking by its decision to cancel the low-rated show about divorce and remarriage after three seasons. Sela Ward and Billy Campbell starred. ___ Sacramento Bee (May 2, 2002) also appeared on abcnews.com, iwon.com, netscape.com
LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) - "Once and Again" fans are a tenacious bunch, not to mention in possession of some disposable income.
The never-say-die campaign to bring back the show, which ABC cancelled last month, has taken to the streets. Not with picketing (been there, done that), but with a 14-by-48-foot billboard in Hollywood that reads simply, "Dear ABC, Bring back the magic Once and Again." The signage went up on Thursday, May 2 and will remain there for one month.
The campaign's coordinators have raised more than $22,000 for their mission to bring back the Sela Ward-Billy Campbell blended family drama. However, of the $12,350 of needed to pay for the billboard located of La Cinega Boulevard and Halloway Drive in West Hollywood, or at http://www.saveoanda.com/Billboard/BillboardMechanical3.jpg for those who don't live in the Los Angeles area, they've only scraped together $10,700. Needless to say, donations are still being taken.
"I would like to propose that we continue to fan the flame and catch Michael Eisner's tail on fire," says Saveoanda.com's webmistress Melinda O'Brien, referring to Walt Disney's (the company that owns ABC) CEO.
Oddly enough, the fans' refusal to go away may ultimately pay off. Although ABC aired the supposed series finale on April 15, numerous outlets have reported that none of the stars have not been released from their contracts, and while the sets have come down, they remain intact and in storage. Rumor has it that the struggling network is displeased with the pilots its seen for next fall and might bring "Once and Again" back for one more go-around.
ABC will announce its 2002-03 schedule on Tuesday, May 14 at the upfront presentation to advertisers in New York. ___Zap2it.com (May 2, 2002)
Fans of the canceled ABC drama "Once and Again" have taken their campaign to save the show to the streets, a spokesperson for the group told PEOPLE.com. The "Save Once and Again Campaign" paid $12,000 (collected from personal contributions) to rent a billboard at a busy intersection in West Hollywood to express their anger. "We will not give up our fight," said Lynda Shulman, a member of a Web site calling itself saveoanda.com__People.com (May 2, 2002)
By Gail Shister, Knight Ridder Newspapers
"Once and Again" is toast, but don't unplug the toaster yet. Though the series finale of ABC's ratings-challenged drama aired Monday, the sets are still in place and the actors under contract until June, executive producer Marshall Herskovitz says.
According to one scenario making the rounds, "ABC's fall pilots are so weak that the network will reverse itself" before the new lineup is announced May 14. With "Once and Again's" actors in tow, firing up production would be relatively seamless. Since the last episode, the network has received some 37,000 e-mails asking that the series be saved.
"I was told we're not coming back, so I'm working under that assumption," Herskovitz says. "But if all ABC's development fails, it's remotely possible they could bring us back. It would make them look good."
Should, by some miracle, "Once and Again" get a fourth season, Herskovitz would walk away from producing a Tom Cruise feature film. "The Last Samurai" starts shooting in the fall in New Zealand and Japan. Herskovitz says his first obligation, contractually, is to "Again." "It's complicated. I'd hate to see the show die. On the other hand, I've already accepted the reality. If they bring it back, I will be there."
If not on ABC, how about continuing production on a cable network, such as Lifetime (partly owned by ABC)?
"It's a simple matter of economics," Herskovitz says. "We would have to do the show for literally half of what it costs now. I'm not going to ask everybody to cut their salaries in half. I'm not going to sacrifice quality." __ Knight-Ridder (appearing in Chicago Tribune, April 18, 2002)
By Virginia Rohan
As they were writing the 63rd episode of their critically acclaimed "Once and Again," Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick didn't know if it would wind up being the third-season finale or the series finale.
Suspecting the latter, the longtime creative partners - whose television credits include "thirtysomething," "My So-Called Life," and "Relativity" - shot a two-minute segment of the cast reminiscing, to be used if "Once and Again" got the ax.
On March 27, the producers were about to "lock" the final edit of that episode. Herskovitz called ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne to ask if they should tack on that farewell sequence.
"She said, 'Go ahead and put it in,'" Herskovitz recalls. "That was their way of saying that we were being canceled." (ABC made the official announcement the next day.)
And so, barring the miraculous reprieve fans still hope for, ABC's "Once and Again" will end its exquisite but turbulent run at 10 Monday night - the latest in a long line of high-quality programs that have died prematurely, despite heroic grass-roots rescue efforts.
While these viewer campaigns have had some successes - "Cagney & Lacey" most notably - and are increasingly easier to mobilize because of the Internet, they generally fail more often than they succeed.
Nielsen ratings are the bottom line.
"The networks don't sell how much people like a show. They sell a set of numbers," says Robert Thompson, founding director of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television.
The numbers for "Once and Again'' slid from a marginal average of 10.9 million viewers its first season to 6.7 million this season. By comparison, MTV's hot new series "The Osbournes'' drew 6 million viewers last week. "When MTV starts beating a major network,'' Thompson says, "all the letter-writing campaigns in the world aren't going to stop the inevitable.''
Says Herskovitz: "I do know that [ABC's] decision to cancel the show has been very complex. They're not losing money on the show, but, because they're in such trouble as a network, they desperately need to raise the numbers, because of ad rates."
The ABC family drama is about two parents, Lily (Sela Ward) and Rick (Billy Campbell), who'd failed at their first marriages but found love again with each other and took on the challenge of blending their families while peacefully coexisting with ex-spouses. It clearly struck a chord with many viewers. But it became increasingly difficult to keep track of where it was. In its not quite three full seasons, "Once and Again" had seven time slots (a TV record, Herskovitz believes).
And yet, through all the disruptions, preemptions, and rescheduling, the show retained a core audience of highly passionate fans, who were touched by its realism and superior writing and acting - but especially by its heart and soul.
This season, when Herskovitz believes the series hits its stride creatively, several "Once and Again" fan Web sites banded together. Fans also issued a challenge to ABC executives in ads they placed in Hollywood trade papers. They wanted a renewal, a good and stable time slot, and more aggressive promotion of the show.
"Once and Again" fans have also sent lilies to ABC's Lyne (in honor of the Lily Sammler character), and gardenias (after the title of a favorite episode). They have bombarded the network and news media with calls, letters, and e-mails, and devised an online petition that, as of Thursday, had collected more than 30,000 signatures.
Marc Levenson, one of the fans spearheading the campaign to save the show, said, "I don't think we're going to give up until May 14," when ABC's new fall schedule is announced.
A 37-year-old single father and Fort Worth business owner, Levenson was among those who, in early February, founded the Web site www.saveoanda.com specifically to mobilize fans, raise money for the ads, and circulate that petition.
Among its signers was Pamela Casey of Bergenfield.
"It's one of the few shows on network TV there is to watch," Casey says. "It's so well-written, and all the characters are so true to life."
Its devotees plan to keep fighting. The fan sites provide information about a protest planned at ABC headquarters in Burbank Monday.
But is there still a chance? Herskovitz isn't hopeful.
"When they say it's going to be the last show, they usually mean it," he says. "There's nothing that would prevent [ABC] from ordering more episodes. They haven't released anybody from their contracts. But that's something they wouldn't do anyway until they announce their schedules in May."
Casey, the Bergenfield fan, is hoping another network, perhaps cable, might pick up the series. But again, Herskovitz thinks that's not likely. "This is an expensive show to make," he says. "In order to do it on a cable outlet, we would literally have to cut it [the cost] in half. I don't know how you can ask people to work for half as much money."
Dorothy Swanson, founder of the famed (now disbanded) Viewers for Quality Television, which claimed some notable victories during its 17-year history, says that historically these viewer campaigns have "hardly ever" been successful. While she believes that fans should still fight to save or at least prolong the life of their favorite shows, Swanson says victory has become even more elusive in recent years as corporate conglomerates have absorbed the networks and hewn to the bottom line.
While Thompson of Syracuse University believes that today's fans, thanks to the Internet, are able to affect the content of their favorite programs - producers, writers, and even stars now routinely visit the fan sites to gauge reactions to depictions and story lines - they are far less successful at reversing network-issued death sentences, he says.
"In many ways, I think these campaigns are more akin to attending a funeral than anything else, and of course,, the funeral is for the survivors," Thompson says. "They get together, they talk about it, people of like mind all mourning the same loss. In the end, that relative is still in that casket in the front of the room."__ NorthJersey.com (April 14, 2002)
BY MIKE DUFFY
The TV gods have absolutely no heart.
And that perverse digital posse of surly practical jokers is really being unusually cruel this season. How cruel? This cruel.
"Baby Bob" is a hit, "Once and Again" has been killed.
"Fear Factor" is a lowest common denominator magnet for millions of viewers who enjoy watching people stick their mugs in a tub of slimy critters. And "The Job," Denis Leary's sharp, smart police comedy, is lost in Hiatusville.
Jim Belushi's extra-annoying "According to Jim" has already been renewed. And Fox's exceptionally witty college comedy "Undeclared" has already finished its season. It's currently teetering on the edge of the cancellation grave of short-lived quality comedies past from "Frank's Place" to "Sports Night."
Aaaaaaargh! Just not fair.
But that's television life. And at least you can squawk about it.
"I was very sad to read in the Free Press that ABC definitely canceled 'Once and Again,' " said Beth Riseman of Grand Blanc in an e-mail this week. "Please tell me of anything I can possibly do to communicate with ABC about this. It is the only show I have watched on a regular basis in a couple of years."
Glad to be of service, Beth.
It's time for Captain Video's 10th Annual Save These Shows Shout Out.
We've supplied a list of network addresses, viewer feedback phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Just so you can rattle the network cage and share your thoughts with program executives who make the decisions on cancellation or renewal.
Oh sure, there are hundreds of fan-generated Web sites for everything from "JAG" to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." And the campaigns to save struggling, low-rated TV series have grown like electronic weeds with the rise of the Internet.
But despite the impassioned efforts of these cyberspace communities, each devoted to rescuing this or that beloved series, the failures far outnumber the successes.
The most notable success remains one of the first such campaigns, the old fashioned letter-writing howl of protest that convinced CBS to reverse its decision to cancel "Cagney & Lacey" after a brief run in the spring of 1982.
Restored to the CBS schedule that fall, the Emmy Award-winning female police drama ran for six successful years and made Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless prime-time stars.
But typically the result is less joyful.
All the earnest huffing and puffing by loyal fans couldn't save NBC's exceptional "Freaks and Geeks" two years ago. And more recently, an intelligent, well-organized online campaign encouraging ABC to renew "Once and Again" couldn't overcome that brilliant family drama's persistently low ratings.
Of course, ABC's shuffling of the Sela Ward series to numerous time periods over its 3-year existence didn't help. "Once and Again" bids bittersweet farewell with a sadly premature series finale April 15. Once and again, aaaaaargh!?
There are still slim (very slim) hopes of renewal for "Undeclared," "The Job" and even CBS's underrated family drama "That's Life," also stuck in Hiatusville. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus' offbeat "Watching Ellie" may get the fall season green light just because NBC Entertainment boss Jeff Zucker has so strongly voiced support for the low-key, unconventional sitcom.
And highly praised, lowly rated "24," the groundbreaking Fox suspense thriller, is starting to feel like a pretty decent bet for a second season. The show's so darn cool, the buzz is so darn hot, Fox would be silly not to give it another go. Wouldn't it? Sure hope so.
I'd even like to think that Fox's dark, quirky "Pasadena" -- a wild and imaginative twist on the prime-time soap opera, blessed with an Emmy-worthy demented diva performance by Dana Delany -- might finally return to the airwaves and find happy ratings serendipity. But that's not going to happen.
So for now, as the network executives prepare to announce their fall schedules in May, handing out the pink slips and renewal notices, it's time to take the feel-good pill of sharing your articulate, passionate thoughts.
Talk back to your TV. It may even do some good.__ Detroit Free Press (April 7, 2002)
By Ted Cox - TV/Radio
As the primary campaign just showed, it's all right to simply make your choice and cast your vote, but it's better to organize and get others on your side. There's strength in numbers. And the same holds true where TV shows, not political candidates, are concerned.
With network executives already planning to release their new fall TV schedules in May, now is the time to campaign for your favorite shows. You can't just sit idly by and watch them, expecting the Nielsen ratings to cast your vote for you. You have to organize support, galvanize the audience, make a difference.
If only there were a way to run political attack ads against programs like "Yes, Dear." Sure, it's a long shot, sort of like expecting a qualified candidate like John Schmidt to top a connected big-name mediocrity like Lisa Madigan, but quality shows can be saved. And the political parallels aren't so farfetched. The www.petitiononline.com Web site, which organizes Internet petitions on various issues, has also taken up the cause of "Futurama," "Once and Again" and the perennially threatened "Roswell."
So, with an eye toward making a difference, here's a look at the broadcast networks' endangered shows and the person best to appeal to at each. Remember, it's not about winning, it's about preserving the political process.
[snipped to ABC mentions]
"Once and Again" faces its annual renewal test, but its odds of surviving are longer than ever. Support is organizing around the www.saveoanda.com web site, as well as the aforementioned petitiononline.com. "The Job" is also in need of support, and even "Alias" could be in danger, as it was tied to the anchor that dragged down Stu Bloomberg. Now, write to Susan Lyne, ABC Entertainment Chairwoman, 2040 Avenue of the Stars, 7th Floor, Century City, CA 90067. __ The Daily Herald (March 21, 2002)
By Michael Schneider
It's over and out for "Once and Again," the critically acclaimed ABC drama from Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick that never quite caught on with a mass audience.
Ending months of speculation over the show's fate, ABC announced last week that it would air the series finale of "Once and Again" April 15.
Herskovitz and Zwick were informed of the cancellation Thursday; the producers said they'd been expecting the news for some time. Already shot, the final episode of "Once and Again" was produced with the assumption that it would serve as the show's endpoint.
"We had held on to some hope (that the show would continue), but made an episode that tied up some loose ends and at least gave a respectful end to the sereies, while opening new avenues in case we did go on," Herskovitz told Daily Variety.
"We did do something at the end that's really kind of a 'thank you' to the audience," he said. "When we told ABC we were doing that, they said go ahead - which was another indication the show was probably going away."
The writing had been on the wall for some time before January, when ABC reduced the show's episodic order from 22 to 19. Net now hopes to garner interest in the series leading up to its finale.
"For the past three season, we've been incredibly proud of the creative work done on 'Once and Again,'" ABC Entertainment prexy Susan Lyne said. "We owe it to Marshall and Ed, and the phenomenal cast they assembled, to give the series a great sendoff."
In the end, Touchstone Television and Herskovitz and Zwick's Bedofrd Falls produced 63 episodes of "Once and Again," which debuted in September 1999. Show stars Sela Ward (who won and Emmy and a Golden Globe for her perf) and Billy Campbell as divorced people who meet and fall in love.
"It's sad to see the masterful work of everyone involved coming to an end, but this sendoff is the right ending for those individuals and the devoted fans," said Touchstone prexy Steve McPherson.
"Once" was among the first wave of primetime skeins to be repurposed on a cable web; in this case, Lifetime continues to air episodes just days after the initial ABC run.
But Herskovitz said the cost of keeping "Once and Again" in firstrun production is prohibitive for a cable net like Lifetime.
ABC had argued in the past that it made a profit on "Once and Again" despite low ratings, as advertisers paid a premium to air a spot during the show. But the show slumped to anemic lows this year.
Season-to-date, "Once" has averaged just a 2.8 raiting/8 share among adults 18-49, compared with a 4.2/11 last season. Show attracted 6.5 million viewers this year, down from 8.5 million last year.
"Once and Again" peaked in its freshman year, when the show attracted 10.9 million viewers and pulled a 5.3/14 in the demo.
"The show was never going to be a hit," Herskovitz said. "Even at our best, it was marginal in terms of ratings. It's a reality of what we do and the reality of the TV landscape... Our show was a difficult one to program. It doesn't fit in with some of the other things they do."
Indeed, ABC never found a suitable home for "Once and Again," shuttling the show seven times during its short life. More than not, "Once" found itself leasing, rather than owning, another program's timeslot.
The show premiered in September 1999 in "NYPD Blue's" Tuesday night slot, then moved to Monday at 10 p.m. in January 2000 when "Monday Night Football" ended its season run. "Once" moved back to "NYPD Blue's" slot in fall 2000 when "Monday Night Football" returned.
Then "Blue" came back in January 2001, forcing "Once" to pack its bags again - moving this time to Wednesdays at 10 p.m.
For once, "Once and Again" wasn't keeping someone else's slot warm. But it wasn't meant to last.
For the show's return in the fall 2001, ABC decided to air "Once" temporarily in "20/20's" Friday night digs. Not only did the move upset "20/20" anchor Barbara Walters, but "Once" failed to pick up steam in the slot. Show slide down to Fridays at 9 p.m. in January, but that lasted only two weeks.
As a last hurrah, "Once" returned to Mondays at 10 p.m. on March 4. By then, jet lag had taken its toll.
Those moves didn't stop "Once" from developing a small but fiercely loyal fan base. "Once" fans lobbied ABC hard to keep the show, even buying full-page ads in trade publications such as Daily Variety to plead their case.
"The outpouring of affection and passion for the show has been astounding to us," Herskovitz said. "People did care. That's why you do this work." __ Daily Variety (April 1, 2002)
By Michael Schneider
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - It's over and out for "Once and Again," the critically acclaimed ABC drama about love, divorce and starting over that never quite caught on with a mass audience.
Ending months of speculation over the show's fate, ABC announced last week that it would air the series finale of "Once and Again," starring Sela Ward, on April 15.
Executive producers Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick were informed of the cancellation Thursday; the pair said they'd been expecting the news for some time. Already shot, the final episode of "Once and Again" was produced with the assumption that it would serve as the show's end point.
"We had held on to some hope (that the show would continue), but made an episode that tied up some loose ends and at least gave a respectful end to the series, while opening new avenues in case we did go on," Herskovitz told Daily Variety.
"We did do something at the end that's really kind of a 'thank you' to the audience," he said. "When we told ABC we were doing that, they said go ahead -- which was another indication the show was probably going away."
END WAS IN SIGHT
The writing had been on the wall for some time before January, when ABC reduced the show's episodic order from 22 segments to 19. The network now hopes to garner interest in the series leading up to its finale.
"For the past three seasons, we've been incredibly proud of the creative work done on 'Once and Again,"' ABC Entertainment president Susan Lyne said. "We owe it to Marshall and Ed, and the phenomenal cast they assembled, to give the series a great sendoff."
In the end, Touchstone Television and Herskovitz and Zwick's Bedford Falls produced 63 episodes of "Once and Again," which debuted in September 1999.
The show stars Ward (who won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her performance) and Billy Campbell as divorced people who meet and fall in love.
"It's sad to see the masterful work of everyone involved coming to an end, but this sendoff is the right ending for those individuals and the devoted fans," said Touchstone TV president Steve McPherson.
"Once" was among the first wave of prime-time series to be repurposed on a cable network; in this case, Lifetime continues to air episodes just days after the initial ABC run.
But Herskovitz said the cost of keeping "Once and Again" in first-run production is prohibitive for a cable outlet like Lifetime.
ABC had argued in the past that it made a profit on "Once and Again" despite its low ratings, as advertisers paid a premium to air a spot during the show. But the show slumped to anemic lows this year.
Season-to-date, "Once" has averaged just a 2.8 rating/8 share among the key demographic of adults 18-49, compared with a 4.2/11 last season. The show averaged 6.5 million viewers this year, down from 8.5 million last year.
"Once and Again" peaked in its freshman year, when the show averaged 10.9 million viewers and pulled a 5.3 rating among viewers 18-49.
"The show was never going to be a hit," Herskovitz said. "Even at our best, it was marginal in terms of ratings. It's a reality of what we do and the reality of the TV landscape. ... Our show was a difficult one to program. It doesn't fit in with some of the other things they do."
Indeed, ABC never found a suitable home for "Once and Again," shuttling the show seven times during its short life. More often than not, "Once" found itself leasing, rather than owning, another program's timeslot.
The show premiered in September 1999 in "NYPD Blue's" Tuesday night slot, then moved to Monday at 10 p.m. in January 2000 when "Monday Night Football" ended its season run. "Once" moved back to "NYPD Blue's" slot in fall 2000 when "Monday Night Football" returned.
Then "Blue" came back in January 2001, forcing "Once" to pack its bags again -- moving this time to Wednesdays at 10 p.m.
For once, "Once and Again" wasn't keeping someone else's slot warm. But it wasn't meant to last.
For the show's return in fall 2001, ABC decided to air "Once" temporarily in "20/20's" Friday night digs. Not only did the move upset "20/20" anchor Barbara Walters, but "Once" failed to pick up steam in the slot. The series slid down to Fridays at 9 p.m. this January, but that lasted only two weeks. As a last hurrah, "Once" returned to Mondays at 10 p.m. on March 4. By then, jet lag had taken its toll.
Those moves didn't stop "Once" from developing a small but fiercely loyal fan base. "Once" fans lobbied ABC hard to keep the show, even buying full-page ads in trade publications such as Daily Variety to plead their case. __ ETonline.com (April 1, 2001)
By Richard Duckett
Once again it is a worrying time for fans of "Once and Again." For the second year in a row, there are rumblings that ABC may cancel the Golden Globe-nominated family drama starring Sela Ward and Billy Campbell. But many devotees of the show are spelling out to ABC why they think it should return for another season.
Karen C. Ramsey of Holden is a member of a group that raised $3,300 for a "Save Our Show" advertisement that appeared in Variety magazine earlier this month. In January, they raised $2,800 for a similar ad that ran in The Hollywood Reporter.
"All this is to get ABC's attention," Ms. Ramsey said. She recently went so far as to visit the set of "Once and Again" and was interviewed there by E! Entertainment Television. "After the interview, Sela Ward invited us to watch some of the filming," Ms. Ramsey said."We were also given a tour of most of the sound stages. Everyone on the set -- from the production people to the cast -- kept saying to thank everybody for all the work being done.
On March 4, Ms. Ramsey was part of a contingent in the "Good Morning America" audience holding signs saying "Once and Again" was returning that night after a hiatus.
Pleasant and thoughtful, Ms. Ramsey comes across as anything but a fanatic. Married 30 years to Douglas Ramsey (he thinks "Once and Again" is pretty good too, Ms. Ramsey said), and the mother of three children, she said she's never done anything like this before. In fact, "This is basically the only show I've watched ... "We're all busy people, ordinary people, Ms. Ramsey said of the "Once and Again activists. "We're just ordinary people going about ordinary lives trying to save something that's high-quality.
"Once and Again" airs at 10 p.m. Mondays, but perhaps not for much longer. The show, created by Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz (who were the brains behind "thirtysomething" and "My So-Called Life" ), is about the lives of the Sammlers and Mannings.
Rick Sammler (Billy Campbell) and Lily Manning (Sela Ward) fell in love 2˝-years ago, and that love caused ripples in the lives of those close to them. Between them, they have four children, the youngest 11 and the eldest 18, as well as two very involved ex-spouses.
"Once and Again" has tackled such themes as divorce, dating, family conflicts, anorexia, the blending of two families, struggles and successes in the workplace and at school, romance and peer pressure. There was some controversy last week when an ABC affiliate in Lynchburg, Va., did not air the latest episode because it showed two teen-age girls kissing. One of the characters was confused about her sexual identity. Gay activists protested the station's decision. ABC said the Virginia station was the only affiliate to pre-empt the show.
Ms. Ramsey said her interest in the show was piqued in 1999 when she read a piece in The Wall Street Journal that was full of praise for the about-to-debut series. She began watching in September 1999. "It took, to be honest, a couple of episodes to get into it, but by the first month, I was hooked," Ms. Ramsey said. "I guess it's the relationships, and Zwick and Herskovitz are able to make people and relationships layered. They're not afraid to show people in a bad light, but they also show them in a good light."
The show received excellent reviews, but a year ago it appeared "One and Again" would not be renewed for a third season.
The movement by viewers to try to save the show began on the Internet. ABC has what looks like a very lively message board for "Once and Again" on its Web site, www.ABC.com.
"I was just interested in seeing what was available with 'Once and Again.' It (the message board) was almost like a book club. You were able to critique the show. That really got me hooked on the ABC message board," Ms. Ramsey said.
When word came out that "Once Again" was in danger last season, one person who regularly left messages began rallying people, Ms. Ramsey said. "It was through the message board that this group came together. We wanted to let ABC know that there are people out there who don't have Nielsen (ratings) boxes."
The show returned, but ratings remain an issue. According to Ms. Ramsey, when "Once and Again" debuted, its viewership was about 10 million people. Now the figure is about half that. But fans make the case that in 2˝ years, the show has been changed time slots seven times. Besides wanting to save the show, fans are also pleading that "Once and Again" be given a permanent night and time. "We're basically saying, you keep moving the show, nobody's going to follow it," Ms. Ramsey said. Looking at the matter from ABC's perspective, she said the network may feel that it has given the program a shot and left it on the air.
At the beginning of the year, "Once and Again" was put on a seven-week hiatus. It returned March 4 for seven more episodes. Ms. Ramsey said the feeling is that if the ratings don't improve by the end of the seven weeks, it could really be the end for the series.
An official at ABC said last week that no decisions about the network's fall lineup will be announced until May.
Meanwhile, letters, petitions, e-mail and phone calls have been made to ABC on behalf of the show. Internet fans have appointed leaders for various aspects of the campaign. Organizers say that hits to the principal fan Web site -- www.angelfire.com/tv/onceagain -- increased by 570 percent over a recent two-week period.
"We're making a pitch for quality," Ms. Ramsey said. "We're making a pitch to ABC to make it more difficult to cancel the show. "ABC has been quoted as saying they want to take the high road and have high-quality family drama -- and we're saying you have it." __ Worcester Telegram and Gazette (March 19, 2002)
By Liane Faulder
People with a strong attachment to a television program are often considered to be in need of a life.
But when you consider the average Canadian spends 20 hours weekly in front of the tube, taking a favourite program seriously merely reflects a need for excellence in all life's choices.
That said, meet Catherine Challenger. The Edmonton schoolteacher is devoted to Once and Again, which airs Monday nights at 11 on ABC. In February, she took a trip to Los Angeles, in part to help save the show from near-certain cancellation. Once and Again, teetering in its third season due to low ratings, follows the lives of a divorced couple, Lily and Rick, played by Sela Ward and Billy Campbell. Part of the show's appeal lies in the complex, honest way it treats divorce.
"The ex-wives and husbands could have been portrayed as nothing more than obstacles to Billy and Sela, but we've been shown not only why they divorced them, but why they loved them as well," says Challenger, who has her own website at www.oandafans.com.
A diverse cast of Lily and Rick's children, new spouses and other relationships means there is someone for everyone to relate to.
"For me, there is Lily's sister, Judy, who is in her 30s and single and wanting a family and I find myself in the same position. Other fans are divorced, or single parents, or teenagers," says Challenger.
The show, created by Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, follows in the fine tradition established by the same producers in three other shows - thirtysomething, Relativity and My So-Called Life. All were finely-crafted programs that garnered a small, but dedicated, audience and were cancelled.
Challenger's trip to L.A. was organized to meet four other fans -- all women between 33 and 70 -- who have been corresponding in a Once and Again chatroom. They called ABC to ask for a set visit and quick as you could say "marketing opportunity" they found themselves meeting Ward and being interviewed by E! News Daily.
"The cast was very grateful. Everyone kept saying 'thank-you for trying to save my job' and they said that if the show gets renewed it will be because of the fans." __ Edmonton Journal (March 18, 2002)
By MIKE McDANIEL
IN less than two months, broadcasters will reveal their new lineups for fall. That doesn't leave much time for ratings-challenged shows to stage a fourth-quarter rally.
Without more viewers, it's not likely that ABC's Once and Again and Fox's Undeclared will be renewed for another season, no matter how devoted their few fans are and no matter how good the critics say they are.
But this critic is going to champion them anyway as network executives decide their fates. There's nothing stopping you from getting involved too. Viewers have been highly creative in their zeal to save a favorite show.
The most common way to get the attention of network executives is to write them. Letter campaigns work, but not often. In 1995, a mail blitz rescued Fox's Party of Five and CBS' Touched by an Angel from cancellation. Other recent letter campaigns prolonged UPN's The Sentinel and CBS' The Magnificent Seven. In the early '80s, letters saved CBS' Cagney & Lacey. In the '70s, the mail extended NBC's Star Trek for a third and final season.
Two years ago, the WB sci-fi series Roswell was at death's door until fans mailed hundreds of tiny bottles of Tabasco to network executives. The execs got the message -- Tabasco was a favorite condiment of one of the show's characters -- and the series was extended.
The Tabasco gimmick has sparked other imaginative efforts. Attempting to save USA Network's female-spy drama La Femme Nikita, fans sent the network letters accompanied by old televisions. "We won't be needing these anymore," was the gist of the campaign. Their enthusiasm had everything to do with USA's decision to extend La Femme Nikita for eight more episodes.
In today's world of e-mails and instant messages, online bulletin boards have become a great place to crow and vent. Unfortunately, there's no evidence network honchos ever read them.
They do read industry trade papers, however. Die-hard fans of Once and Again and Roswell (again on the endangered list) recently placed ads extolling the virtues of their favorite shows while challenging network executives to "take the high road."
The high road is the one less traveled -- and the one that we, too, implore the suits to take as we examine the virtues of five "on-the-bubble" network series: ABC's Once and Again and The Job, Fox's 24 and Undeclared and the WB's Jamie Kennedy Experiment.
Once and Again
One can hear ABC executives gripe: If this show is as good as critics say, why aren't more people watching?
Since Once and Again's debut, the show has bounced all over ABC's schedule. This year alone it has moved from 9 p.m. Fridays to 8 p.m. Fridays to 9 p.m. Mondays (on Channel 13). That's when it wasn't on hiatus. Schedule shifting is a big reason the show is averaging only 6.3 million viewers, placing it in a tie for 102nd place out of 185 shows that have aired this season.
ABC has a problem nurturing hourlong dramas because it has so few choice 9 p.m. time slots in which to serve them up. ABC's 9 p.m. hour is taken by football and newsmagazines on four of seven nights. The congestion is such that NYPD Blue, a 9 p.m. staple since its 1993 launch, was moved to 8 p.m. this season to accommodate a new hour of drama, Philly. (Steven Bochco, the maker of both NYPD Blue and Philly, did not complain.)
Beyond the time-slot problem, ABC has had difficulty developing domestic dramas. The last one to connect with the public in a big way was Dynasty (1981-89).
Dynasty was a story about the misbehavior of rich people. Once and Again is about the complexity of everyday lives, focusing on a blended family.
As in NBC's Providence, a seemingly inordinate number of crises befalls Once and Again's principal characters. In March alone, we've seen one character barely survive an auto accident, another come dangerously close to giving up on life, a third fall hard for one of her teachers and a fourth explore budding same-sex feelings.
But amazingly, executive producers Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick see to it that their show does not slip into melodrama. They do it by keeping things "small."
Once and Again is a show about what's going on in characters' heads. For some of that, the show uses a gimmick -- characters appear individually in black and white to express their thoughts, much as they would to a psychologist.
The trick adds uncommon lushness to the characterizations, heightening the drama and our affection. Each member of the cast is exceptional.
The show might have more viewers if it were not a serial; it's easy to abandon a serial after you've missed a couple of episodes.
ABC is in danger of finishing fourth in this year's ratings race. The network has so many holes to fill that it doesn't make sense to give up on a show this good. But television is a business. A network's decisions must be justified economically as well as creatively. Unless many more viewers suddenly show up, it's highly possible this season will be Once and Again's once and nevermore.__ Houston Chronicle (March 17, 2002)
People fall in love, a little bit anyway, with a favorite television show. You get to know characters who are usually more attractive (and less demanding) than the supporting players in your own personal drama and grow accustomed to their faces, which conveniently beam into the living room each week.
The late NBC programming guru Brandon Tartikoff once said that every series on TV should be someone's favorite, and with so many narrowly focused channels available, that's increasingly the case—so much so that certain viewers appear intent on finding a conspiracy, or someone to blame, when their program slips away. Thanks to the Internet, moreover, such people can find like-minded folks to convince them that they have lots of company.
As a result, campaigns spring up every year as people form small but cohesive groups dedicated to "saving" one TV show or another teetering on the brink of cancellation. In some instances, the camaraderie among these fans becomes an end in itself, with the coalitions continuing to fraternize long after the shows have departed.
The latest object of such online affection is "Once and Again," ABC's romantic drama about two dreamily beautiful divorced people (Sela Ward and Billy Campbell) who find love again, as well as the sundry kids and exes that crisscross their lives.
ABC brought the show back this month for a last-gasp run on Monday nights, but after three years of mediocre ratings the network's passion is gone. After lackluster ratings two weeks ago, viewing of the show unexpectedly spiked upward on Monday, suggesting the series may yet have some life in it; still, unless that trend holds, "Once and Again" could easily be over and out when ABC announces next season's lineup in May.
None of this is being taken lightly by die-hard fans, who seem to believe that everyone—ABC, rating service Nielsen Media Research, men flying black Army helicopters—is out to kill their show.
To be fair, many well-meaning, articulate and sincere people have written in urging me to help save the program, seeking media support to bolster their letter-writing and plate-passing to buy ads in Variety. These people should know that Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner does not take orders from me about how to run ABC, though based on the network's recent track record—including its failed attempt to bring David Letterman over from CBS, leaving the studio scraping egg off its mouse ears—perhaps he should.
Amid the correspondence, however, have also been messages from people who simply won't accept that "Once and Again" is one of the least-watched prime-time series on a ratings-starved network, with an estimated average audience of 6.3 million viewers a week.
Granted, 6 million of anything sounds pretty good, from album sales to ticket buyers for a movie's opening weekend. Yet the sad reality of prime-time television is that that many people watching ABC, CBS or NBC will generally earn a show an unwanted vacation.
Still, that perspective is lost on a minority of the show's supporters, who, given their own ardor, find it impossible to accept that "Once and Again" isn't attracting "ER"-sized crowds. One wrote in citing "the 6 million-plus [viewers] and the millions more who are not counted" watching the series. Another asked why "ABC and the Nielsen people" insist on taking her program away: "It has a huge following, and many of us are protesting! We cannot understand why a show of this caliber is being overlooked in the ratings!! Are ABC and the Nielsen people listening to the public at all?"
Admittedly, I don't share quite that level of exclamatory enthusiasm for the show, having exhausted my TV-viewing grief on an earlier drama from "Once and Again" producers Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, "My So-Called Life," which ABC snuffed out after 19 episodes in 1994. I was nearly as fond of their next show, "Relativity," which also lasted a single season on ABC. (One might assume the network or producers would learn from this history, which did include the more enduring "thirtysomething," but then again, this is television.)
That said, it's understandable that a loyal core audience would embrace the current series, which is classy, smart and earnest. What I can't fathom is the venom directed at those who may cancel the show, or the need to concoct elaborate plots explaining why a low-rated series is heading to the big TV graveyard.
Don't forget that "Once and Again" has already received multiple stabs at capturing an audience, in part because the show is produced by Disney, which owns the network. Indeed, the show even played a part in demonstrating the network's diminished reverence toward its news stars, as ABC drew the public wrath of Barbara Walters by bumping "20/20" off its Friday perch last fall to provide the drama a better chance to succeed.
As for Nielsen, its methodology may well be flawed, but the ratings service has no interest in which programs survive so long as the networks' checks clear, and everyone in television lives by the tyranny of its data—including TV executives themselves. Network bureaucrats can be guilty of various sins, including cynical programming choices, reluctance to take creative risks and favoring programs that come from parent companies, sometimes at the expense of quality. Yet they also live a frenzied existence in which their next decision could render them ex-network executives, giving them scant incentive to blithely discard programs after spending millions to produce and promote them.
Far from wanting to scuttle shows people love, then, they desperately need to find such properties to maintain their car allowances and Hawaii-Aspen lifestyles, enduring their own kind of pain (albeit of the corporate variety) when they don't.
What does this mean for those love-struck folks frantically sending outraged e-mails? Only that if a favorite show disappears, a share of the responsibility falls on friends and neighbors bypassing it for schlock on competing channels. Because rest assured, if another 6 million people tune in each week, you'll get "Once and Again"—and plenty more smart, classy shows—not just once, but again and again and again. __ LA Times (March 13, 2002)
By Jonathan Groves
I can only hope this plea does not fall on deaf on ears.
Please, watch "Once and Again."
By nature, I am not a television addict. But every once in a while, a show comes out that's so captivating, it demands my attention.
"Once and Again" — at 9 p.m. Mondays on ABC — is one of those shows. Well-written and engaging, it is the rare show that creates compelling characters whom I want to spend time with and learn more about. At the end of each week's episode, I inevitably find myself wishing the next episode were minutes away instead of days.
Please, watch "Once and Again."
The reason for my dedicated, somewhat frantic plea: My favorite show has unfortunately languished in the lower third of the ratings, an area that targets a show for the broadcast graveyard.
Television pundits for weeks have been talking about the show's inevitable demise, the disappearance of another intelligent but unwatched show.
Please, watch "Once and Again."
I was heartened to discover I am not alone.
Dedicated fans (even more devoted than myself) have pooled their money to take out ads in Hollywood Reporter and Variety magazines. They've started an online petition (yes, I added my name to the thousands already there), and there's a site (www.saveoanda.com) devoted to saving the show.
Jim Schuessler, executive vice president and general manager of Springfield's ABC affiliate, KSPR, says his station received 15-20 calls from people wanting to know how to contact the network about saving the show. He says in his 20 years in the business, he's seen about only five or six shows that have sparked such loyalty that pushes viewers to demand a program.
"I think the writing is spectacular," Schuessler says. "It's one of the best written shows to come along in a long, long time."
Despite his acknowledgement of its quality, he remains a realist. "You can't be emotional about your own product," he says. "... It hurts your objectivity."
Though the fan base is loyal, it's not big enough. In its Friday slot in November, "Once and Again" was third in its time slot, behind "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "48 Hours" in the Springfield market, Schuessler said.
Please, watch "Once and Again."
I've wondered why the show hasn't caught on. Maybe it's because the show lacks the frenetic histrionics of "ER" or the blood and action of "Law & Order." Maybe it's because people would rather laugh than cry when they spend an hour watching the tube after a day's work. Maybe it's because people prefer "reality TV" to television that portrays real life.
It's that portrayal that envelops me every week. These are flawed people, people who break and don't always get fixed, people much like ourselves. We see families, struggling with life after divorce, with blended families, with teen issues. Each week, some part hits upon some truth, something real.
Please, watch "Once and Again."
So comes this plea to the Ozarks, to everyone with a television set. Give "Once and Again" a try. Invite Rick, Lily and the rest of the cast into your home each week. See if it touches an emotional nerve.
So much of what comes out of Hollywood is brain-numbing pablum that adds nothing. Let's not let something of quality vanish.
Let us send a message to the networks in a loud collective voice:
Please, save "Once and Again." __ Springfield News-Leader (March 11, 2002)
by Ria Megnin
Holden – Karen Ramsey doesn't watch much television. That's why she'll go the extra mile to save the one show she never misses: ABC's critically-acclaimed "Once and Again," produced by the creators of "thirtysomething," "Relativity" and "My So-Called Life."
"I'm not a TV fanatic," Ramsey says. "There was just something about 'Once and Again' that just grabbed me." The show is about a couple in their forties who married after being divorced, both bringing children to their new marriage.
"A lot of it is dealing with teenagers. My husband and I, having raised three teens, can identify," Ramsey says. "I think most people who have watched it have been able to connect with it in some way. It's one of the best reality shows there is."
Ramsey began watching "Once and Again" when it debuted in September of 1999. ABC had just created an online message board for fans of its shows, and Ramsey began posting. "It's become like a book club, where you meet every week and talk about aspects of the show," Ramsey says. "You get a perspective from a lot of different angles. There are people on the board from Australia, France, Germany, England and Brazil — so it's not only North America. It seems like it's really become worldwide."
Those fans rallied when they learned the show was at risk of being cancelled last season. "We came together to help save it," Ramsey says. "The time-slot has been moved seven times, so we're saying that's why it hasn't been able to gather a committed audience. It was renewed, though I'm not naive enough to think it was because of us. There are 19 new episodes scheduled. Ratings will determine whether or not the show continues."
So a campaign began in January to get the word out about the show in time for its return to the airwaves March 4. Ramsey and others spent several hours each week on projects to earn attention for the show. "We want to make it difficult for ABC to cancel it, that's our goal overall," she says.
"We banded together and raised $3,300 for an ad in Variety that appeared Monday and $2,800 for an ad in The Hollywood Reporter January 29," Ramsey says. "Probably 250 people contributed. We've been sending paperback books to [ABC President] Susan Lyne to show our support. We sent valentines in February. We've been doing an e-mail derby to sponsors, critics, entertainment reporters so they'll remind viewers to watch. We have postcards online that we're asking people to download; they say 'I'm not a Nielsen family, but I did watch "Once and Again." All this is to get ABC's attention and let them know that we are watching this show."
If you can make it here…
Then the big news came. "Back in October, five of us were planning a visit to Los Angeles," Ramsey says. "One of the campaign gurus who lives in Newton talked with the show's publicist, who contacted me and asked if we'd be interested in being interviewed by [cable network] E! Entertainment. We said, 'Why not?' So we were interviewed by E! about the campaign on the set of 'Once and Again' along with the actors."
The five fans visited the set three days during their week in Hollywood.
"It was like a dream," Ramsey says. "These rooms come into our living rooms every time that show is on. To actually be standing there was surreal, it was awesome. We got to meet all but one of the actors. They were the nicest people, very down to earth, obviously supportive of what everyone has been doing. It's like a close-knit family to them. They'd love to continue working together."
Ramsey says the interviews went well. "They asked us why we were doing this campaign, and our basic response was: because we really believe in the values of the show, and if you're going to watch TV, you might as well watch something that's good."
The "Once and Again" segment is scheduled to run on E! News Daily tonight, Thursday, March 7, at 6:30 p.m. on E! Entertainment. [note: the segment is now scheduled for Monday, March 11 at 6:30 p.m. ET on E! Entertainment]
Also during February, one of the fans in New York e-mailed "Good Morning, America" and asked if the group could get tickets for the Monday, March 4 show. "It just happened that some were available," Ramsey says. So six fans traveled to Manhattan on Monday to hold signs in the "Good Morning, America" audience about "Once and Again" returning that night.
"Yesterday was just the icing on the cake," Ramsey said Tuesday morning. "They were very accommodating. We ended up in the front row, and Tony Perkins did interview us, Maggie [the group's spokesperson] got about 10 seconds of air time. We had signs and we got a little bit of airtime in the beginning when they panned the audience."
What gets lost if the show is cancelled? "I guess ABC's credibility, because they've said they want to take the high road in family dramas," Ramsey says. "We're just hoping that ABC will keep on a good show.
"A lot of people think I'm crazy for doing this, but I've always told the kids to stand up for what they believe in," Ramsey says. "I truly believe this is one of the best family programs today on TV."
"Once and Again" airs Mondays on ABC (Channel 5) at 10 p.m. For more information on the "Once and Again" campaign, visit the following web sites at
By Allan Johnson
Devotees of ABC's "Once and Again" have seven weeks for a last-ditch effort to save their show, a tradition for television watchers so affected by a series that they write, telephone and do whatever it takes to keep their favorite on the air.
"Once," a touching drama about a blended Chicago area family, returns from hiatus to its new day and time, 9 p.m. Monday on WLS-Ch. 7, for the final seven episodes of the season.
ABC entertainment president Susan Lyne says the network is trying to help, putting the show back on Mondays, where during the 1999-2000 season it had its greatest success, with No. 1 ratings wins in adults and women age 18-34, and women age 18-49.
ABC will watch for an increase in the show's average 6 million viewers this season, which is down from almost 11 million viewers last season, a drop attributed in part to frequent shifts of the series' spot in the schedule. Fans will be also watching, and continuing their lobbying efforts for the series, which has been praised for its sensitive portrayal of a modern romance between a couple (Emmy-winner Sela Ward and Billy Campbell) with children, ex-spouses, siblings and other significant others in tow.
Since the beginning
"It's a very public, responsive type of enterprise," says Steven Stark, author of "Glued to the Set: The 60 Television Shows and Events That Made Us Who We Are Today."
Only a handful of series have been snatched from the jaws of cancellation after public outcry. CBS' "Cagney & Lacey" was cut in 1983, but returned the following year because of fan response.
The sci-fi series "Roswell" was close to dying on the WB a few years ago, until the network was flooded by bottles of Tobasco sauce -- a delicacy for the group of teen aliens on the show -- sent in by fans. It won "Roswell" another season, although things aren't looking good for it again this year; it's now on the bubble on new home UPN.
Such shows as USA Network's "La Femme Nikita," CBS' "The Magnificent Seven" and UPN's "The Sentinel" have won reprises thanks in part to intense lobbying from viewers.
But "the level of passion that an audience has for the show, I think, is a very, very minor factor in any decisions that are made about it, because this is a money-making business," says Alex McNeil, author of the TV dictionary "Total Television."
"Once" co-creator and co-executive producer Marshall Herskovitz reluctantly agrees: "Whether something should or shouldn't stay on the air is not a moral or ethical question, but also a financial question. And even that is complicated."
Says "Once" co-star Susanna Thompson: "I am a huge believer in the power of people and activism. But there's such a feeling that it's ending. And yet, there's a little part of me that says I'm not going to go there until it's done."
Let the voices be heard
"We all decided that we would do a campaign to let our voices be heard," says Lynda Shulman, 32, a vice president of a Boston marketing company, about her and some seven others who met on an ABC message board for the series.
Shulman and her group have sent letters and e-mails to ABC Entertainment Television Group chairman Lloyd Braun and Lyne; set up an online petition at www.petitiononline.com/OandA/petition; contacted radio stations, entertainment shows, magazines, newspapers and others about the series' plight; sent lilies (in honor of the name of Ward's character) and gardenias (for the name of the last original episode in January before the show's hiatus) to ABC; and placed an ad in the Hollywood Reporter Jan. 29 -- with another one scheduled for Variety magazine on Monday.
"We realize that as fans, no matter how many letters we send to ABC, we're not going to change their mind if they're going to cancel it," Shulman says. "We're trying to get as much press as we can for the show, and as much buzz around the show as possible, just to make it difficult for them to cancel the show."
Where to write
Susan Lyne, president, ABC Entertainment, 500 S. Buena Vista St., Burbank, CA 91521; 818-460-7477
Nancy Tellum, president, CBS Entertainment, 7800 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036; 323-575-2345
Gail Berman, president, entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Co., 10201 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035; 310-369-1000
Jeff Zucker, president, NBC Entertainment, 3000 W. Alameda Blvd., Burbank, CA 91523; 818-840-4000
Dawn Ostroff, president entertainment, UPN, 11800 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025; 310-575-7000
Jordan Levin, president, entertainment, the WB, 4000 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91522; 818-977-5000 __ Chicago Tribune (March 4, 2002)
By Virginia Rohan
"Once and Again" may soon be part of that long chapter of TV history that begins, "Once upon a time... "
Even the producers of the critically acclaimed ABC ratings struggler, which returns to the lineup tonight, seem to accept the probability that their family drama will be canceled.
In a letter to critics that accompanied preview episodes, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz wrote, "As you probably know (although in this case, why should you be different from the rest of the viewing public), our show will be moving to Monday nights at 10 p.m. beginning March 4. This is either a last valiant attempt to save us, or else the network's version of a Valhalla."
The series is about Lily Sammler (Sela Ward) and her husband, Rick (Billy Campbell). Both previously married and with children, they are trying to blend their families.
Tonight's episode, "Falling in Place," mainly deals with how Rick's kids are dealing with the recovery of their mother (Susanna Thompson), who was hit by a car and is in the hospital. (Zwick plays Dr. Rosenfeld.)
The second episode, "Gay-Straight Alliance," beautifully examines the issue of how teenagers struggle with their sexuality.
Both episodes - directed by Eric Stoltz, who plays a teacher in next week's episode - are very good. But then, quality was never the problem with "Once and Again." And I strongly suspect that those who love the show will love it more than ever now, and those who don't never will.
Nonetheless, the passionate fans of "Once and Again" are out to save the show. They have united to issue a challenge to ABC executives in an ad slated to appear in today's Variety. (The show's fans, who had previously raised money to place a $2,800 ad in The Hollywood Reporter, raised another $3,300 for today's ad.).Their goal is to get ABC to renew the show for a fourth season, give it a good and stable time slot, and promote it more aggressively.
"Once and Again" fans have also been bombarding the network and media outlets with calls, letters, and e-mails and circulating an online petition (www.petitiononline.com/oanda/petitition.html) that had close to 10,000 signatures as of Friday.
More information about the campaign, the series, or its characters can be found on the Web sites: www.angelfire.com/tv/onceagain, www.oandafans.com, and www.saveoanda.com. __ Northjersey.com (March 4, 2002)
ABC's poignant family drama returns tonight in fine form, but quality - and the show's cultlike following - may not be enough to save it
By KEN PARISH PERKINS
It's truly possible that many TV viewers simply can't or don't want to grasp what the makers of Once and Again are trying to do. The ABC drama, with its subtlety, sentimentality, gut-check realism and slow-as-growing-grass rhythm, just hasn't connected with audiences. In fact, most have chosen to avoid it like a fungus.
And that's why, as the critically acclaimed hour about love, loss, divorce and an ever-growing blended family returns tonight, this must be considered its last gasp. The show has been off the air for nearly two months, and it's been on three different nights and seven different time slots since its 1999 debut. ABC will surely cancel the series soon if it fails to deliver bigger ratings.
The mere mention of cancellation worries and infuriates the small but loyal band of Once and Again fans, a lot so cultish and organized they raised $6,245 to buy full-page plea ads in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, build Web sites, start petitions, and send e-mails to critics, advertisers and network programmers.
But the cruel truth is that television, like most industries, is built on the bottom line. And while ABC Chairman Lloyd Braun may list Once and Again as his favorite hour on the tube, he won't think twice about axing it.
The broadcast networks in general have given up on programming that has any sense of narrative or emotional complexity. It may attract the average critic, but it rarely grabs those armed with Nielsen boxes.
In their quest for instant ratings, the networks mercilessly yank shows that need time to find their audience, such as James Earl Jones' family drama Under One Roof. If they don't cancel the shows, they shuffle them to various days and times, forcing viewers to wander like gypsies in the night. (Monday is a new night for O&A, by the way.)Once and Again 9 p.m. tonight on WFAA/Channel 8 But this viewer-challenge syndrome points to something deeper.
Once and Again, which stars Sela Ward and Billy Campbell as two divorced people looking for love a second time around, comes from the team of Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz. They have a rep for creating shows that get under the skins of their characters and their audience.
Zwick and Herskovitz - why don't we just call them Z&H - staunchly resist television's standard dramatic devices. Instead, they rely almost totally on intricate writing. Their shows savor the messy wonder of real life and the tangled dynamics of extended and broken families. And they do it with poignancy and, yes, humor.
All this is done without television's dramatic safety net, a familiar backdrop such as the police precinct on NYPD Blue or the hospital on ER. On Once and Again, characters and story lines are built around abstract undercurrents of ambivalence and doubt, not the show's setting. You must be willing to have your emotions tugged and your mind blurred.
When Karen (Susanna Thompson) demands that her daughter Jessie (Evan Rachel Wood) eat something beyond a cookie in tonight's episode, her insistence adds another element to the ongoing story line about the teen-ager's eating disorder.
The dramatic purpose of Z&H's work isn't to solve everything in a single scene or single episode but to, over time, hold a mirror up to the characters', and some viewers', lives. For a prospective viewer, this is not always the most comfortable experience.
Which might explain why Z&H have been in this do-or-die position before with Relativity, and before that My So-Called Life, and before that thirtysomething - all shows exploring the uncomfortable emotional paradoxes of human relationships.
Relativity (1996) was about a couple whose chance meeting in Rome leads to a love affair. But when the relationship returns home, conflict and family intrusions collide. It lasted several episodes. My So-Called Life (1994), about a confused, soulful teen-age girl, was so dead-on in showing modern teen angst that some parents said it was simply too unnerving. It expired after 19 episodes.
Thirtysomething was the most successful Z&H creation, running four years, but it was also the most-often bashed. Set around a close-knit group of middle-class friends and lovers, it's still used today as a cultural reference for whiny, self-absorbed, middle-class yuppie television. Nearly every story about Z&H has the phrase "navel gazing."
The same charge has been leveled at Once and Again, partly because of its propensity for awkward silences, talky scenes and an ongoing narration device in which cast members sit and reveal their inner-most thoughts to the camera.
Ever since thirtysomething, Z&H have denied that their shows are less accessible to the average viewer. But Herskovitz said in a recent interview that there ought to be a place on TV to look at these issues of relationships and family life "in a way that was penetrating and demanding." Like their loyal fans, Herskovitz says that "if people talk about [the show] and are engaged by it, you'd think there would be a place for something like that."
But Once and Again has little leverage with the network. It does command a premium from advertisers seeking the show's desirable and devoted female following. It also attracts a large percentage of high-income, well-educated viewers, according to ABC. But there are other factors at play, including pressure from affiliates to deliver larger ratings to lead-in to the late local news. Also, as with many serialized dramas, the show's repeats score poorly.
In creative terms, Once and Again is as strong as ever. Tonight picks up where the show left off in January, dealing with the fallout from Karen's accident. The usually sweet Jessie blows up at her brother, Eli (Shane West), for caring too little about her mother, and at Lily (Ward) for caring in a superficial way. When she screams at Lily, "You're not my mother, you'll never be my mother," the scene is so well-acted and so startling that it gives a different poignancy to a line that has been used zillions of times.
Once and Again may have its genesis in the dissolution of two marriages, but its ripple effects on the children is what has given it a dramatic foundation that few, if any, series can match. The dialogue is often at its best when it involves the teen-age characters, whether it's the wayward Eli, or Grace (Julia Whelan), still so uncertain of herself that her self-deprecating wit is a sure sign of a girl in search of an identity.
Next week's pivotal episode is startling, and, without giving too much away, involves Jessie and an emerging sexuality that has been ever-so-slightly hinted at in previous episodes.
The prospect of losing these characters is what drives Once and Again followers to lobby so hard to keep the show on the air. The question now is whether people will tune in on Monday nights. Or will ABC continue to see the show as a "a labor of love"?
Hate to be pessimistic, but in this numbers-crunching climate, it doesn't look promising __ Ft. Worth Star Telegram (March 4, 2002)
By Verne Gay
'ONCE and Again," one of TV's most esteemed dramas, lands in a new time period tonight (at 10) the seventh since the show's 1999 premiere, and possibly its last.
Despite a frantic effort by ABC to draw viewers to the show, and an equally frantic effort by fans to keep it on, the drama is almost certainly facing cancellation when its current run ends in seven weeks.
Top network executives - who have championed the show since its premiere - were uncharacteristically silent last week about its fate. However, Marshall Herskovitz, who co-created "Once and Again" with Ed Zwick, said in an interview, "We're facing one of the realities of television, which is that ABC as a network is not doing as well as it was several years ago" and therefore is not able to effectively promote the show as it once had.
"The question is," he added, "whether any of the discussion of possibly ending the show will galvanize people to tune in."
Herskovitz said Susan Lyne, ABC's new entertainment president, supports the show, and one of her first duties when she got the job in January was to move the show back to Mondays, where it had once performed relatively well (the show most recently aired Fridays at 10). Speaking of ABC's frequent rescheduling of the show, Herskovitz said, "Yeah, it's really a lot, and I wouldn't use the word 'fair' or 'unfair' [referring to ABC's treatment of the show]. That implies motive, and their motives have always been the best. It's very hard to program a network and very hard to program a show that doesn't fit in with the normal criteria of the hour-drama genre. Programming a network is all about flow and what you're paired with, and this show doesn't necessarily fit well with other shows. It's always been a struggle."
But ABC also has reduced the show's episode order from 23 to 19. A cutback like this could scarcely be interpreted as a show of confidence, although ABC is also looking to save money.
A fan group, spearheaded by Massachusetts-based marketing executive Lynda Shulman, hopes to hand-deliver a petition with 10,000 signatures to Lyne's office today. Will it make a difference? It couldn't hurt, but consider this: A successful prime-time show draws about 10 million viewers; "Once and Again" has averaged a little more than 5 million this season. __ NY Newsday (March 4, 2002)
By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
Fans of "Once and Again" have been saying it with flowers -- gardenias and lilies, to be exact. In an imaginative effort to save the ABC drama, which returns at 10 tonight, supporters have been sending flowers to the offices of two top network executives.
Gardenias are in honor of a January episode called "Gardenia," in which the character of Karen Sammler (Susanna Thompson), a lawyer and the divorced mother of two teens, was struck by a car and seriously injured. Lilies are for the Sela Ward character, Lily, whose divorce and marriage (to Karen's ex-husband) form one of the cornerstones of the show.
The flowers, delivered weekly since the program disappeared from the air in mid-January, are part of a save-this-show campaign that has included ads in the trade publications The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. The ads have cost a combined $6,100 -- paid for by fans, who chipped in anywhere from $5 to $200 or $300 each.
"We want to keep it positive," says Lynda Shulman, a 32-year-old Boston resident who is among the viewers leading the charge. "We know they kept the show on the air for 2 1/2 years, and we're grateful for that. We're not grateful the show's moved seven times, and we feel it can be promoted a little heavier," say, at the rate ABC plugs its new darling "Alias."
Fans have been adding their names to an e-mail petition (the count just topped 10,000) to be delivered today, along with forwarding postcards and copies of their favorite paperbacks to Susan Lyne, ABC Entertainment president. The books are in honor of a bookstore operated by a character on the series.
Despite the unusual tactics, Shulman, a vice president of corporate partnerships for a marketing company, says she's "really a normal person. I've never even written a letter or thought of writing a letter to a network in my life. ... We're hoping at least our voice is heard."
The Hollywood Reporter ad categorizes "Once and Again" this way: "One love story ... 2 broken marriages ... 4 children of divorce ... 22 nominations ... 8 awards for excellence ... vast critical acclaim" and then the kicker, or kick in the head: "2 years -- 7 time slot changes."
The Variety ad, scheduled to appear today, repeats comments about family shows and taking the high road made in recent months by Lyne and Michael Eisner, Disney chairman and CEO. "Ms. Lyne and Mr. Eisner, we are challenging you to stand behind your statements. Take the high road, promote this family show heavily and give it a permanent home," it implores.
ABC has told fans the show will stay in its Monday time slot for the remainder of the season and it will look at the program's ratings. "We want to make it difficult for them to cancel it. We want to have a lot of buzz around it," Shulman says.
Amy Lee, a 20-year-old from Plum who is studying cinema and photography at Ithaca College and happens to be in Australia now, offers to make one of the longest-distance calls in support of "Once and Again." Like Shulman, she's never tried to save a show from the dramatic dustbin.
"The only other show I care enough about, 'NYPD Blue,' has never been in danger of cancellation," she writes by e-mail. "Even if 'NYPD Blue' were in danger, I probably would not participate in a campaign to save it. It has had a nice long run, with heavy network promotion and I would feel satisfied with the stories it has told."
Shulman, Lee and others wonder about the state of a TV world where shows such as "The Chair" or "Temptation Island" or yet another "Survivor" survive, and quality ones such as "Once and Again" are bounced around like a John McEnroe backhand.
Talking about the cast of "Once and Again," Lee writes, "They deal with such heavy topics as anorexia, divorce and mental illness in such a realistic but powerful way, that one can't help but relate. I honestly believe that this is the best family show on the air right now, and that it would only benefit parents to sit down with their children every week to watch this show tackle these sensitive issues."
Lee say it's worth the time and effort to save the ABC drama, "if it means I'll be able to watch this, instead of all of the other crap that is out there." And while Lee and Shulman are young women, they say the program is not a chick show (not that there would be anything wrong with that) but one attracting viewers across the board, including teens and middle-aged men.
It now appears that "Once and Again" will get a total of 19 episodes this year, which is two more than the 17 announced in January (but still fewer than the 23 initially scheduled). On the flip side, however, the drama has steadily slipped in the Nielsen ratings.
"Once and Again" finished the 1999-2000 season tied for 46th place with "Dateline NBC" and sandwiched between "The Simpsons" and "Walker, Texas Ranger." For the 2000-2001 season, it dropped to No. 74 in household viewing, a notch below the canceled "Bette."
This year, it's languishing at No. 99 -- the territory occupied by "Love Cruise" and "Wolf Lake" -- out of 175 shows on the list topped by NBC's "Friends." Often, though, a series with good demographics, or viewers prized by advertisers, can hang on, despite low overall ratings.
For background about the show, go to http://abc.com. For information about efforts to save it, check out:
By Tim Cuprisin
There's one more chance for ABC's "Once and Again," which returns to the network's lineup tonight at 9 on Channel 12.
The blended-family drama has bounced around the dial, most recently to Fridays, where it never found an audience.
Rabid fans of "OandA," as they like to call the show, are now taking out national advertising and e-mailing TV writers to save it. They've got an online petition drive, a letter-writing campaign to ABC execs, and paid for ads in trade magazines.
Their e-missive included this:
"The fans have thrown down the gauntlet in a very heartfelt and public way. They've used their own money, and given of their time and effort for no other reason than their love of the series. Now it's time for the powers at ABC to do their part."
While its lack of a permanent slot for "OandA" is a problem, ABC has already kept a ratings-challenged show alive for three seasons. It's up to the fans to get all their friends and neighbors - especially from Nielsen households - to watch the show tonight and for as many Mondays as it keeps airing.
If not perfect, it's definitely worth saving. The characters can be whiny and self-absorbed, but they face real-life problems that don't end with each episode. Sela Ward and Billy Campbell are annoying, but the large cast is full of interesting and watchable faces who create a true extended family of characters.
Tonight's episode deals with the aftermath of a near fatal accident for one of the regulars. It's as messy as real-life recuperation can be. If you haven't seen the show, you should be able to catch up with the characters pretty easily. If you've missed the show, now you know where to find it.
If you're looking for others who share your "OandA" love, try www.angelfire.com/tv/onceagain/ and www.saveoanda.com/.
But to survive, a show doesn't need ads or Web sites or petitions. It needs viewers. __ Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (March 3, 2002)
By Gail Pennington
Karen Sammler isn't the only one who feels as if she's been run over by a truck. So do "Once and Again" fans.
Karen, played by Susannah Thompson, actually was run over in the most recent episode of the show, way back in January. Following that pivotal (and shocking) plot twist, ABC dealt fans an equally crushing blow by pulling "Once and Again" off the schedule.
During the hiatus, which ends on Monday, the fans responded by doing what followers of endangered shows always do: They campaigned, in every way they could think of, to persuade the network that quality counts more than ratings and that viewers' passion should outweigh their sheer numbers.
Used to be, a "save our show" effort was pretty much limited to letters - letters, mailed in envelopes. Fans managed to save "Cagney & Lacey" with pen and paper and stamps, and a similar verbal viewer outcry rescued "Designing Women" from cancellation. "Once and Again" fans have 21st century resources. They've used the Internet to gather like-minded viewers and keep them informed about current campaign strategies. They've bombarded ABC and the nation's news media with e-mail. They've created an online petition and voted at a Web site dedicated to saving endangered TV shows.
Ironically, rather than empowering fans, the information superhighway has effectively thrown up a roadblock to their efforts. It's so easy to send (or forward) e-mail, so effortless to click a box on a Web site, that votes carry comparatively little weight.
Networks ask themselves many questions in deciding whether to renew or cancel a series. Ratings are important, but even more crucial is how a show performs in its time period in relation to competing programs. Is viewership growing from week to week? Are audiences who tuned in for the preceding show bailing out on this one? Are viewers young (18-49 is mandatory) and upscale? Does the network own part or, preferably, all of the show? What advertising rates can it command? Fan loyalty, while nice, is just icing.
It's a given that "Once and Again" is one of TV's best dramas. The writing is intelligent, the characters are rich and complex, and the story lines are deeply realistic. The acting, especially from the teen-age members of the ensemble, is often astonishing.
ABC knows this. The network's chief programmer, ABC Entertainment president Susan Lyne, says she loves the show. But in three seasons, "Once and Again" has never been able to build on its core following. Unless a miracle occurs during a promised seven-episode run (9 p.m. Mondays on Channel 30), cancellation seems almost certain.
Pessimism won't stop fans from trying, however. And although "Once and Again" is prime time's most endangered series, other shows and their followers also have reason to worry, and to lobby the networks. [rest snipped] __ St. Louis Post-Dispatch (March 3, 2002)
By DANA CALVO
Much to the disappointment of an intensely loyal audience whose numbers fall into the "not quite big enough" category for ABC, "Once and Again" faces an almost certain shutdown following a brief resurrection scheduled for this month.
The drama, which stars Sela Ward and Billy Campbell and premiered in 1999, was pulled in January, prompting viewers to dash off e-mails to network executives and the show's producers, Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz. The series, which has bounced around ABC's schedule, returns Monday for what many presume will be its last flight of episodes.
For fans, the drama provided an honest look at the demands placed on families in the wake of divorce and conflicts that arise as adults seek to find love again.
ABC has yet to make any final determination about the show's future (the network will officially set next fall's schedule in May). But with the network having already reduced the number of episodes ordered, the producers acknowledge the program's prospects for a fourth season appear bleak.
"Never say never," Herskovitz said. "But I think the greatest possibility is that the show will end when we go off the air in the spring."
Herskovitz added that the criteria of what qualifies as a success, given the shrinking audience for network television, have blurred. "A big hit today has 18% of the [available] viewing audience watching. A failure has 8% watching. That's absurd," Herskovitz said from the office he shares with Zwick in Santa Monica. "That means that 82% of the audience has no interest in a big hit. So how do you define the difference between a big hit [and a failure] when they're both hitting such a narrow slice?"
"Once and Again" broke ground in a number of ways, not the least of which was to place Ward front and center as a sexy 40-something woman in a TV landscape overrun by midriff-wearing 20-somethings. The actress won an Emmy for her role as Lily Manning in 2000.
So what, if anything, have Zwick and Herskovitz learned from their most recent experience trying to make a quality drama? Not much, Herskovitz said, maintaining that "Once and Again" is just as good as "thirtysomething," the series he and Zwick produced in the 1980s, exploring the same sort of universal and contemporary themes.
"Our idea of 'targeting' was to say, 'Ooh, there are a lot of divorced people in the country, maybe a lot of people will watch,' " Herskovitz said.
"Once and Again" returns Monday night at 10 on ABC. The network has rated that episode TV-PG-V (may be unsuitable for young children, with a special advisory for violence).__ LA Times (March 1, 2002)
By LYNN ELBER, AP Television Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Saddle up the donkey, Sancho, and sharpen the pencils. We're going tilting at TV windmills.
ABC's "Once and Again," one of television's best and most distinctive series, is in mortal danger and we are compelled to try to rescue it.
We've got company in the quest to keep the drama from cancelation but — let's face it — the numbers look bleak: a drop from a first-year average audience of 10.9 million to 6.3 million for this season, its third.
What does that add up to? Faint hope that the delicately etched, achingly intimate drama about families coping with contemporary pressures will survive for a fourth season.
The show's future, according to the producers and ABC, rests on more viewers tuning in when the show returns from a nearly two-month absence to a new night. Beginning Monday (March 4), the season's final seven episodes will air at 10 p.m. EST.
Fans have worked hard to drum up support, running costly ads in Hollywood trade papers, sending flowers to ABC executives and keeping Web sites humming with thousands of messages of support.
"I totally fell in love with it" from the start, said Marc Levenson, a Fort Worth, Texas, business owner who orchestrated the fans' ad campaign. "We want viewers, as many as possible, to hear about the show."
What would a newcomer find in "Once and Again?" Not a lawyer show. Not a doctor show. Not an action-filled cop show. No formula at all, in fact, unless you count superb writing and consistently adroit acting.
Guiding the series are Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, class acts both in TV and film. They created the series "thirtysomething" and have produced Oscar-winning movies including "Traffic."
All of this talent is in service of a simple proposition: that the troubles and triumphs of daily life can make for great drama. How's that for classic?
The series revolves around Lily Manning (Sela Ward) and Rick Sammler (Billy Campbell), divorced parents who met, fell in love and married in the course of the series. Their relationship and its effect on their children, ex-spouses and others is the core of the story.
The angst of divorce is seen through the eyes of both adults and children with raw candor. In the first season, Rick tells how ending his first marriage felt as if he were taking a baseball bat to his children.
One viewer, a divorced dad, commented that he found the scene almost unbearably painful. With "Once and Again," there are no immunity challenges for either characters or the audience.
"In this show, we didn't set out to be groundbreaking so much as we set out to be truth-tellers," said Herskovitz, comparing "Once and Again" to his 1987-91 yuppie family drama "thirtysomething."
"There is a way in which, on television, just telling the truth tends to be startling," he said. "Our willingness to have these flawed characters and explore their lives so minutely, without car chases, is still the exception on television."
Campbell compares "Once and Again" to "a series of short stories. Short stories are about small things, about quiet moments ... It's not a big, catchy, flashy show. We're just the tiny little moments that make up family life. It's kind of a developed taste, I guess."
Is it possible viewers in divorce-riddled America avoid the show because it represents too direct a hit on their lives and emotions? Its intensely loyal fans don't think so.
"I've been divorced twice and the idea of finding someone out there can give a person hope," said Levenson.
"My parents divorced when I was 9," said Canadian viewer Christi Nolan, 21, of Hamilton, Ontario. For Nolan, the series is "so realistic ... it pulls you in. It's like real life to me."
The fault, "Once and Again" boosters insist, lies not in the series but in its network. They claim that ABC undermined the drama by moving it repeatedly and by shorting it on promotion.
"Once and Again" has been bumped six times to five different time slots, with Friday the last outpost. With its return Monday, it will be back to the night on which it earned its highest ratings.
The network claims the moves were an effort to boost viewership for a show that never earned high ratings after its first-season debut. That episode drew nearly 17 million viewers; by comparison, top-rated "Friends" on NBC is drawing an average 24.5 million viewers this season.
"We've stood behind 'Once and Again' for three years," said ABC spokesman Kevin Brockman.
The series suffered from bad timing, coinciding with ABC's infatuation with "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (news - web sites)," which was given choice time slots that might have helped the drama.
Timing again may be against it. A steep ratings dive by ABC means there are fewer viewers overall watching the network, making on-air promotional efforts less effective.
A weak network also is less able or inclined to stand by a worthy but low-rated show.
Zwick and Herskovitz admit they were unhappy over how often "Once and Again" had to pack its bags, but they laud ABC for allowing them creative freedom. They're philosophical about the show's future.
"Three years. If that's what we get, that's what we get," said Zwick. "I believe that. Look, (it was) 65 episodes, 65 hours of doing exactly what you want exactly the way you want to do it. ... I do think things have their own life."
Campbell said it would be sad to see "Once and Again" end prematurely. All he and others connected with the show do now, the actor said, is "just wait and see."
We won't be waiting. We'll be watching. Will you?
By JOHN LEVESQUE
Anyone interested in how to murder a TV series should pay attention to ABC's treatment of "Once and Again," a quality drama that will surprise everyone if it lives to see a fourth season next fall.
More real than anything we'll ever see on a "reality" series, "Once and Again" had its 2001-02 season premiere Sept. 28, a Friday -- the show's fourth night of the week in three seasons on (and off) the air. Original episodes appeared for four weeks, then the series was given a week off (to accommodate an awards show). It returned Nov. 2 for two more weeks, was off Nov. 16, returned Nov. 23 for four episodes, was off two weeks, returned Jan. 4 for two more, and hasn't been seen since Jan. 11.
With that kind of schedule, it's no wonder "Once and Again" has trouble finding a large following. It's easier to find a Ben Franklin in my wallet.
"Once and Again," a thoughtful, chatty series about two divorced people falling in love, getting married and blending their families, returns -- again -- next Monday at 10 p.m. (KOMO/4). ABC's promotional spots are telling viewers the "critically acclaimed" series is back with seven -- count 'em -- new episodes. What the spin-doctoring fails to mention is that those seven episodes will bring the full-season complement for "Once and Again" to 19, which is three to five episodes shy of a normal season.
ABC says nothing sinister should be read into this slap in the face, that given all the earlier pre-emptions, this is simply the number of episodes necessary to fill out the season.
You'd have to be three to five clams short of a fisherman's platter to believe such hooey. ABC originally planned to cut the season order to 17 episodes until producers Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick found out about it and pleaded for more. They got two more, and the sort of lame assurances network executives always give struggling shows they don't plan to renew: "We love the show." "It's one of our favorites." "We hope it can find an audience."
Put it on the air, keep it in the same time slot, promote it the way you hyped "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" and maybe that audience -- the one packing enough of those bogus Nielsen numbers to warrant survival -- will show up! How hard is that?
Viewers wishing to put a bug in ABC's ear can write to ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne, 500 S. Buena Vista St., Burbank, CA 91521. Send e-mail to ABC Audience Relations at firstname.lastname@example.org. To check on the effort to keep "Once and Again" alive, visit www.angelfire.com/tv/onceagain
Herskovitz and Zwick, who also gave us "thirtysomething" in the late '80s and know well the vagaries of network television, have kept their senses of humor about them. In a note to TV critics, they say: "As you possibly may know (although, in this case, why should you be different from the rest of the viewing public?), our show will be moving to Monday nights. ... This is either a last valiant attempt to save us or the network's version of a Valhalla."
Of course, the producers know better. In Norse mythology, Valhalla is the hall where fallen heroes are celebrated, and networks never celebrate their fallen heroes. Shoot, they don't even bother to acknowledge when the heroes have fallen.__ Seattle Post-Intelligencer (February 28, 2002)
By Rob Hedelt
ABC'S QUALITY family drama, "Once and Again," is close to getting the ax. The show that meaningfully follows the life of two 40-something adults struggling with love a second time around needs—and more importantly, deserves—all the help its loyal fans can provide.
It returns to the air March 4 for what, without a concerted fan effort, could be a final string of episodes on Monday nights at 10.
If you're not yet a "Once and Again" fan, don't feel alone. By airing the show in seven different time slots over the past few years, several times yanking it off the air entirely, ABC has made keeping up with the endearing Rick and Lily tougher than losing 20 pounds.
When it first premiered, "Once and Again" was perceived by many as simply a star vehicle for the beautiful and talented TV veteran, Sela Ward, who won an Emmy on the popular drama "Sisters." To be sure, Ward has done a wonderful job of making Lily one of the more memorable female roles on television. Torn by the responsibilities of being a mother and the desire to follow her heart into a new romance, Ward makes the character a study in contrasts and one of the most realistic ever to carve out a piece of primetime. Plus, and this shouldn't be overlooked, she just happens to be one of the most gorgeous women on the planet.
Her other half on she show, Rick (Charlottesville native Billy Campbell) has held his own with the high-powered actress. Though there have been times he made the architect a little too much of a worrywart for my taste, Campbell has made Rick's dual concerns of love and caring for family a solid anchor for the show.
But as the romance blossomed in the show's opening season and we met all the characters, a funny thing happened on what was dubbed a "family drama." It was truly about the whole family, with each of the children drawn as full and compelling characters in their own right, along with Lily's sister and ex-husband and Rich's ex-wife.
Add to this mix actors that from top to bottom have been up to the parts, and to a run of interesting, often intriguing scripts, touching on issues that ranged from a healthy sex life to eating disorders, and you've got a masterful show.
Though the show garnered enough attention to win a renewal its first season, not enough people have been watching through all the time-slot changes to keep it on.
Ratings for the fall season, in a family unfriendly Friday night time-slot, put the series in the bottom half of the Nielsens.
A group of die-hard fans, knowing that help is needed now to save the show, have started several efforts that fans here can easily join in on. Several fans from Spotsylvania and Stafford counties have contacted me to fill me in on the efforts, which include one campaign that's as clever as it is easy.
Taking a chapter from the series, it references the fact that Lily's sister, Judy, runs a bookstore called "Booklovers." To that end, members of the "Save Once and Again" effort are asking all fans to send a paperback copy of their favorite book to the ABC network official, Susan Lyne, who will ultimately decide the show's fate.
They are asking fans to include a note with the book they send in that tells Lyne why they love "Once and Again" and how badly they want the show to be renewed.
That's just one prong of the save the show campaign. Another has led to the purchase of ads in national publications like the trade paper "Variety," with more planned.
Another effort calls for fans to urge their local radio station's deejays to talk up the show's renewal, and still another is in the works to have the whole "Once and Again" cast to to appear on the cast of "The Opray Winfrey Show" to drum up support.
Anyone interested in getting involved in any of these efforts can get more information by going to the effort's web address: www.saveoanda.com. The site includes a collection of links to other spots where fans have been working to save the show, and share their feelings about the series.
The common thread to all of them are an appreciation for what most laud as a down-to-earth show that helps them understand the problem that we all face today.
Critics have singled out some of the nitty-gritty reality as boring, especially the real-life worries that plague the adults after the break-up and blending of two families.
Yes, now and again Rick's whimpering gets to be a bit much. But the other 99 percent of the time, and all of the time when the kids were involved, the worries and struggles had a validating ring of truth to them. That's a commodity that's becoming exceedingly rare on television today.
If you've got a second, grab any old paperback and send it with a note asking to save "Once and Again" to
It's the right thing to do. __ Fredricksburg Free Lance Star (February 24, 2002)
When their favorite television shows get the hook, dedicated fans go to the net and put their complains online. Once and Again Strategy Thanks to lobbying efforts of the Emmy winning show's viewers, ABC's new head of programming, Susan Lyne will have some extra bedtime reading. Inspired by the bookstore/matchmaking service on O & A Lyne will receive a paperback along with every plea. Signatures 6614 on savethatshow.com Outlook - Save some of those books, O & A fans. You'll need something to read between now and March, when the show (hopefully) returns. B+ __ Entertainment Weekly (posted 2/22/02)
By Gina Piccalo and Louise Roug
So fans have appear to have rallied. They may be heartened by another recent campaign, a plea to save ABC's "Once and Again," which was rumored to be headed for its last episode. Fans began passing the hat and in a week raised about $2,800 for a full-page ad that ran late last month in the Hollywood Reporter, says Lynda Shulman, a VP at a marketing company near Boston, who participated in the campaign.
"I'm not a crazed fan," says Shulman, who connected with fellow "Once and Again" aficionados on the Web, "but I watched it from the beginning." Campaigning on behalf of the show "doesn't take a lot of time," she adds, and the results are worth it. The show, which went on hiatus Jan. 11, returns early next month, and fans are taking out an ad, unpersuaded by network statements that the show's planned hiatus would've ended without their efforts. Fan fervor has prompted a N.Y. company to found savethatshow.com, a site where viewers can vote on their favorite shows. Poll results are sent to the networks, and the company's press kit promises: "No ballot stuffing," with one vote on each show. __ L.A. Times (February 21, 2002)
By Dusty Saunders
Once and Again, ABC's thoughtful adult drama, is a sinking television series, and a barrage of SOS messages are surfacing around the country.
While an official announcement hasn't been made, word is that this well-written, believable (by TV standards) series will be canceled in the spring. Thus, a Save Our Show campaign is gaining momentum.
Bounced around the schedule like a lottery ping-pong ball, Once and Again has been in four time periods since premiering in the fall of 1999. Curently on hiatus, it will return in a 9 p.m. Monday slot March 4, fulfilling its 19-show season, down from the original seasonal order of 22.
Although SOS campaigns seldom work, Once and Again fans are clinging to the hope that a recent change in network program management will be beneficial to their cause. The new boss of ABC Entertainment, is a woman, Susan Lyne, and Once and Again is definitely a woman's series.
Created by Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, who also brought thirtysomething to the home screen, Once and Again began with a provocative yet tasteful storyline about a romance between attractive divorcees, played by Emmy-winning Sela Ward and Billy Campbell.
Most of the first two seasons were spent detailing their romantic lives while also tackling the complicated family problems revolving around their relationship. The relationship between Lily Manning and Rick Sammier, a pair of fortysomething lovebirds, mirrored the lives of many viewers.
This won dedicated fans who felt as if the situations closely followed their own often-complicated, somewhat messy lives. The scripts offered touches of reality without sinking into the predictable morass of daytime soap opera, and the acting, particularly by Ward, was terrific.
Since Lily and Rick are now a couple, Once and Again has moved on to numerous other storylines dealing with problems of friends and family members.
Frankly, I don't watch as much as I did during the first season, partly because a critic hasn't the time to tune in to network programming like a normal viewer. But if I had the time, I doubt Once and Again would be on my "A" list, mainly because most of the romantic intrigue is gone.
From a pragmatic network perspective, Once and Again has problems not directly connected to the writing, production and acting. It is, in essence, a serialized drama, unlike cop and lawyer series, which are relatively self-contained on a weekly basis.
If you haven't been watching from the outset, Once and Again can be difficult to follow. Thus, from ABC's view, there's little chance for audience growth.
Still I understand fans' devotion to the series. The characters remain real, and the scripts have retained a human element that's become the trademark of Herskovitz and Zwick productions.
I'm happy to support any SOS movement for Once and Again, mainly because it's one of the last bastions of adult drama -- in the literal sense of the term -- in a network environment catering to pseudo-reality and young-adult shows with cardboard characters.
If this SOS campaign interests you, write Susan Lyne, ABC Television, 500 S. Buena Vista St., Burbank, CA. 91521. For more information, go to www.petitiononline.com/OandA. __ Rocky Mountain News (February 12, 2002)
From John Levesque, Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
From Sonia Mansfield, San Francisco Chronicle:
They are rallying around their show, running a full-page ad in the Hollywood Reporter begging ABC to spare their favorite program. The group -- Save Once and Again -- also has an online petition at www.petitiononline.com/OandA/petition.html that you can sign to show your support.
You go, "Once and Again" fans.
"Once and Again" and "Roswell" fans are fighting the powers that be, and they should. The Nielsen ratings system that the networks use to decide which shows go and which ones stay are a damn joke and obviously not representative of what people are truly watching.
Don't believe me? Check out the Web site www.savethatshow.com. It's devoted to people trying to save their favorite shows.
I've gotten a lot of e-mails from people asking how the ratings system works, so let me break it down for you: Nielsen Media Research places a device called a Nielsen People Meter in 5,000 homes (called Nielsen families), which they claim is a random sample of the television viewers in the United States (yeah, right). The device measures which programs are being watched and by how many people in the household.
Well, who thinks that 5,000 households are truly representative of the 99 million households in the United States with televisions? Go on. Raise your hands. Ah-hah! Just as I suspected: Nobody but Nielsen Media Research flunkies would think that.
On its Web site at www.nielsenmedia.com, Nielsen Media Research claims that 5,000 is an adequate number and uses a vegetable soup metaphor to explain why. It had something to do with the number of carrots in a spoonful.
I'm not joking, and I'm not going to get into the specifics of it. Let me just say that it's very lame and it really doesn't convince me that 5,000 households is a large enough sample. In fact, all the metaphor did was make me hungry for vegetable soup.
You know, I used to think the Nielsen families were imaginary. They were like Santa Claus, the boogeyman or a good Chuck Norris movie. They didn't exist. In fact, I wrote an entire column about it last year, but shortly after the column ran a friend of mine was tapped to be a Nielsen family.
Yes, Virginia, there are Nielsen families.
So, what can you do about this unjust situation? Well, not much. The only thing you can do is, when your favorite show is being threatened with cancellation, let the networks know that you are watching. Drop them an e-mail. Make a call. Send a strip-o-gram. Whatever. Just let them know you're watching. __ San Francisco Examiner (January 29, 2002)
From Vanessa Sibbald, Zap2it.com:
LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) - Placing a full-page ad in Tuesday's The Hollywood Reporter, fans of "Once and Again" told ABC that they are watching the show -- despite its many moves on the schedule.
"One love story, two broken marriages, 4 children of divorce, 22 nominations, 8 awards for excellence, vast critical acclaim, 2 years -- 7 time slot changes," the ad read.
The show of support also included testimonial from fans on why they enjoy the show and a link to a website containing a petition for ABC to bring the drama back on the schedule. So far 4,762 fans have signed the petition.
Meanwhile, "Once and Again's" prospects for being renewed for a fourth season don't look very good. ABC has scaled back its order of the drama, ordering only 17 episodes instead of the normal 22. That combined with it pulling it off the air during February sweeps, could mean an end for the show that's always had a rough time in the ratings.
Airing Friday nights, one of the tougher nights of the week, "Once and Again" ranked as the 75th the last time it aired, on Jan. 11. Season-to-date, the show is ranked 91st, pulling an average 4.5 rating/8 share in households and 6.3 million total viewers per week -- that's about the same performance as the now-cancelled CBS drama "Wolf Lake."
When the show returns on March 4, ABC plans to move it once again, from Fridays at 9 p.m. to Mondays at 10 p.m. __ Zap2it.com (January 29, 2002)
By Rick Kushman
PASADENA -- TV producers, stars and network executives just finished two weeks of meetings, news conferences and mingling with reporters, and as you would expect, that produced a number of versions of reality.
ABC entertainment chairman Lloyd Braun, for instance, told reporters during a news conference last week that "Once and Again," the sometimes stark, always graceful drama in its third season, would not make all 23 episodes that were scheduled for this season.
"We've talked to (producers) Marshall (Herskovitz) and Ed (Zwick) about doing 17 episodes this year," Braun said. "That's the number they've been planning to do for weeks now."
Not exactly, it turns out. At a party that night, the producers said that was the first they'd heard about doing just 17 episodes. Asked if that would hurt their ability to conclude their story arcs, Zwick said, "It sure would."
After a few more minutes talking to reporters, Zwick and Herskovitz went to find Braun. They talked in a corner, then came back with a new, unified story. Nothing had changed, sort of. They will make 17 episodes for sure, and maybe the full 23 if ratings pick up a bit, Zwick said.
Here's the translation in non-Hollywood terms: ABC is disappointed in the ratings, and everyone agrees moving the show to Fridays was a bad idea. So, for a month, "Once and Again" will be off the air, which is not such a bad thing because it won't have to compete against the Olympics on NBC in February.
The series will return March 4 in a new time slot, 10 p.m. Mondays on Channel 10.
The truth is, this is probably the show's last season. The battle the producers are fighting now is to tell their stories over the full 23 episodes.
"If it has to end," Zwick said that evening, "I'd like to do it with dignity."
He also said fan support is helpful, and to that end there is a "Save 'Once and Again' " campaign in the works.
Information is available at www.saveoanda.com. People can write directly to ABC entertainment president Susan Lyne at ABC Inc., 5000 S. Buena Vista St., Burbank, CA 91521.__ Sacramento Bee (January 24, 2002)
By Gail Pennington
Ed Zwick was at the buffet, staring morosely into a large pan of mashed potatoes. The occasion was an ABC party, but Zwick wasn't in a festive mood. He'd just received bad news about his series, "Once and Again" -- news that shouldn't have surprised him but apparently did.
In its third season, "Once and Again," a meticulously crafted drama about two divorced parents who merge their messy extended families, is beloved by critics and fans, but not by Nielsen.
Never a ratings powerhouse, the series won surprise renewal last spring, but the reprieve came with a price. With too few time slots and too many dramas, ABC would send "Once and Again" into perilous territory: 9 p.m. Fridays.
Barbara Walters was irked that her "20/20" news magazine would be bumped from its familiar time slot. "O&A" fans were upset that their show would now be forced to compete with NBC's hit "Law & Order: Victims Unit," already firmly established in the spot. And no one was thrilled that "O&A" would be forced to lure viewers to yet another new night and time, after already bouncing around from Tuesday to Monday to Wednesday.
Considering the alternative -- cancellation -- Friday still looked pretty good. But viewership dropped lower than ever this season, even after an emergency move to 8 p.m., the fifth time period in three years.
Meanwhile, "O&A" lost its major champion, Stu Bloomberg, who was fired by ABC early this month. His replacement, ABC Entertainment president Susan Lyne, is a clear-eyed pragmatist who said on taking the job that "quality" alone wouldn't suffice.
"I look for programming that I think is great but that will also have mass appeal," she told TV critics two weeks ago in Pasadena, Calif. Charged with lifting ABC out of last place, Lyne seems unlikely to indulge a show that has failed in three seasons to prove its commercial viability.
Lloyd Braun, who is half a rung above Lyne as ABC Entertainment chairman, said at the press conference: "I think it's a wonderful, wonderful television show, and I wish it were doing better."
Then things got interesting.
"We've talked to Marshall and Ed about doing 17 episodes of 'Once and Again' this year," Braun said, referring to Zwick and co-executive producer Marshall Herskovitz. "That's the number we're planning to do, that's the number they've been planning to do for weeks now, and that's not really a sign of anything other than the fact that that's the number of episodes as a network that we need. And Marshall and Ed have been invested in that and understand it."
Seventeen episodes: That's five fewer than a full-season order of 22. But with the season off to a late start and "Once and Again" underperforming, the reduction seemed to make sense.
Cut to that night's ABC party, where Zwick and Herskovitz arrive together. The veterans of "thirtysomething," "My So-Called Life" and "Relativity" are favorites with the critics, and they are greeted with sympathy.
Sympathy for what? Zwick and Herskovitz claim the cutback is news to them. They insist they can't believe it.
Zwick, who has appeared on "Once and Again" as young Jessie's shrink, heads for the buffet line but is apparently too shaken to put food on his plate. Herskovitz holds court for a circle of critics who are trying not to bounce up and down in excitement over the budding brouhaha.
No argument, "Once and Again" is in trouble.
"Fridays have been a disaster for us," Herskovitz admits. With the move to 8 p.m. from 9, "we did even worse. Half the people I talk to don't even know we moved."
Still, he'd have appreciated hearing about the show's fate from the network, not secondhand. Soon he breaks free and heads off to the other end of the crowded room to track down Braun and find out what's what.
When Herskovitz returns, he's quoting Braun as citing a misunderstanding. The network will take "a minimum of" 17 episodes, not a finite 17. Braun misspoke, or maybe he was misquoted. A transcript of the press conference, as reproduced above, rules out the latter.
"I can't tell you how many (episodes) we're going to need yet," Braun tells one reporter later, soundly contradicting himself again.
Sadly, although the interchange was a fascinating window into TV land's spin cycle, it can be considered irrelevant as far as "Once and Again" goes. There's no way this wonderful show will return next fall, and Zwick and Herskovitz know it.
By the end of the evening, Zwick was talking about finales. He'd hate to leave fans hanging, and bringing the story to a close in 17 episodes rather than 22 would mean plot changes.
"I'd like it to end gracefully," he said.
Herskovitz, meanwhile, was reflecting on the business of television.
"Shows have to perform," he said with a sigh. "We have experience with shows that don't, and we know what happens."
Two days after the party, ABC announced that "Once and Again" would leave the air for seven weeks, returning March 14 at 9 p.m. Mondays.
"The show simply hasn't worked on Fridays, so we're returning it to the night where it had its greatest success," Lyne said in making the announcement.
The hiatus gives fans a chance to continue a "save our show" campaign.
An "emergency action" bulletin calls for sending paperback books (a reference to a bookstore that is a pivotal setting in the show) to Lyne along with letters telling her "why you love the show."
For those who want to participate by sending a book or just a letter, the address is: Susan Lyne, President, ABC Entertainment, ABC Inc., 500 South Buena Vista Street, Burbank, Calif. 9152.1
E-mails can be sent to ABC via a central address: email@example.com. But "snail mail" carries much more weight.
Visit the Web site www.angelfire.com/tv/onceagain for more details on the campaign. Or just get ready to say goodbye. __ St. Louis Post-Dispatch (January 24, 2002)
By Kim Potts
Oh, and about that smell of desperation wafting from ABC...putting the sometimes crushing, sometimes funny, always affecting and wonderful family drama Once and Again on a seven-week hiatus was so not a step toward that elusive success. Now, let the save the show campaigns begin. __ E! Online (January 19, 2002)
By Mike Duffy
It's as easy as ABC.
The troubled Alphabet Network, staggering through a dismal 2001-2002 season of steep ratings decline, made one of its biggest scheduling mistakes last fall by exiling the exceptional family drama "Once and Again" to Friday nights.
That's a death slot for a remarkably wise, intelligent and emotionally subtle series about family relationships.
This season, pummeled in the ratings by NBC's grim, sensation-laden crime drama "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and the bottom-feeding newsmagazine "NBC Dateline," the stories of Rick and Lily Sammler (Billy Campbell, Sela Ward) and their blended family have fallen all the way to No. 96 in the Nielsen ratings and drawn a tepid 6.3 million viewers each week.
Those are cancellation numbers. And now ABC has abruptly shipped "Once and Again" to Hiatusville for seven weeks starting tonight. A repeat episode of the lame new game show "The Chair" airs in its place at 9 tonight on ABC.
"The show simply hasn't worked on Fridays, so we're returning it to the night where it had its greatest success," new ABC Entertainment boss Susan Lyne said this week, announcing that "Once and Again" will resurface at 10 p.m. Mondays beginning March 4.
When it aired in that Monday night spot during the 1999-2000 season, "Once and Again" attracted a strong audience of women and young adults and topped both CBS's "Family Law" and NBC's "Third Watch" in those key audience demographics.
While banishing the critically acclaimed, Emmy Award-winning series to the bench, ABC also chopped the number of episodes ordered from 23 to 17. That's another indication of the network's lack of faith in the series.
All of this has longtime "Once and Again" fans in an uproar. They've banded together to try and save the show from cancellation.
One of the prime online spots for "O&A" updates and information is www.angelfire.com/tv/onceagain/. Also, fans can tell ABC what they think by writing Susan Lyne, President, ABC Entertainment, 500 S. Buena Vista Street, Burbank, CA 91521. Or visit the "Once and Again" message board at www.abc.com and commence venting. Again and again. __ Detroit Free Press (January 18, 2002)
By Brian Ford Sullivan
I'm not usually one to come out and say one show absolutely is better than another show. Obviously I have my opinions but at the end of the day I subscribe to the idea that while I have my way of thinking, the public as a whole is going to inevitably march in directions different from mine. So when it comes to which shows survive and which shows are canceled more often than not, I realize that inevitably series I can't stand will spend years on a network's schedule while others will disappear into the sunset. And there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not one of those critics who thumbs his nose at highly rated shows while holding an endless grudge over the lowly rated ones that get canceled. After all I'm just a guy like you with no more weight in his opinions than anybody else.
One of my favorite quotes from Dennis Miller is from one of his rants about critics - "We don't need help! You like the Red Skelton painting? Buy the Red Skelton painting. You like 'Home Improvement'? Tape it and go over it like the Zapruder film. It's your living room, it's your life, go nuts! Enjoy the world on your terms. Follow your own heart and take what critics say with a fifty-pound bag of salt because at best a critic is just another human being like yourself, fumbling around in the dark, trying to separate the artistic wheat from the Wonder Bread." I believe that 100%. This site isn't about making you feel bad you like one show over another, it's about telling you what's going on with your favorite shows and giving you the ammunition (ratings information and so on) to tell the networks whether they've been wrong or right (and a little sarcasm never hurt anybody did it?).
But sometimes, just sometimes there's that one show that absolutely deserves a seat at the network table for reasons so overwhelming that it's amazing there's any question about it. In the past five years I've spent more than a few column inches in the defense of certain series that due to ratings evidence and/or critical recognition deserves to get a legitimate chance at success. "Once & Again" is one of those series. I'm not going to spending today's column recounting yesterday's look at the myriad of ways ABC has run the show into the ground but rather reasons why this show is something truly quite amazing and should be cherished instead of tossed in the corner like ABC has.
I don't know about you but my family isn't perfect. And that's the first thing that strikes me about "Once & Again" (and every other Herskovitz/Zwick production) is that the families and the characters that represent those families aren't perfect - they are flawed human beings just like every other Joe on the planet. They make mistakes and bad choices just as often as they make the right decisions. This isn't "The Brady Bunch" where the parent gives the "lesson" each week at the end of the show first with a scolding finger and then with a warm pat on the back. "Once & Again" doesn't offer you that safe worldview. In the world of Lily Manning (Sela Ward) and Rick Sammler (Billy Campbell), life just sort of trudges along with happiness and sadness getting equal time under their roof with no other explanation other than that's just how life is. People are moody, arrogant, jaded, insightful, thoughtless, gentle, depressed, hopeful, generous, vain and forty other different things like they are in real life.
Rick Sammler and Lily Manning meet under the worst of circumstances - Rick is divorced, Lily is separated and both have two children of similar ages that have only socialized from a distance. Two and a half seasons later we've lived through the growing pains of the Sammlers and Mannings thrust together simply because Rick and Lily fell in love and at the close of last season, chose to marry. We've seen Rick go from a successful, emotionally isolated man to a professionally broken, but warmer person. We've seen Lily go from a sheltered housewife to a self-sufficient woman that finds her own way. And trust me their paths were not easy, even in terms of their own relationship. "Once & Again" is one of the few series to ever really address the idea that the choices we make have often devastating effects on our entire family, not just ourselves or our children.
The show extends well beyond the constraints of Rick and Lily to their exes, brothers, sisters, friends and co-workers. The series has so large a cast that more often than not we don't see each character each week. There's Lily's sister Judy (Marin Hinkle) who like all little sisters both loves and is frustrated by their elder sibling. There's Karen (Susanna Thompson), Rick's ex-wife and more importantly my favorite character - a woman who finds herself left alone due to Rick and Lily's marriage. And there's Jake (Jeffrey Nordling), Lily's ex-husband and frequent source of heartache and headache.
But the most intriguing group out of everyone in the cast is the children - without a doubt one of the finest young casts working in the entertainment industry today. These aren't some eye-rolling moppets that belong in a Pepsi commercial, these are some truly talented actors and actresses that inhabit the difficult roles of being children of not only divorce but also of remarriage. I don't know about you but I wish I had Eli (Shane West), Grace (Julia Whelen), Jesse (Evan Rachel Wood) and Zoe (Meredith Deane) broadcast into my living room as a teenager even if I too, wasn't a child of divorce. There's just something about the way they are written, directed and presented that makes them seem almost too real. They ask questions kids of divorce ask just as much as they ask questions regular teenagers ask. It's a real compliment to the audience when even the youngest characters are susceptible to having flaws just as much as the adult characters.
Lastly, "Once & Again" offers like every show nowadays - a "gimmick" - this being the characters' innermost thoughts turned into black and white testimonials where they talk to the audience. While many critics originally attacked the often overused technique (at the time the show debuted this technique was all the rage) I find myself mesmerized by it at times. The testimonials aren't simply them saying things like "I love this person" it is used as more of a secondary compliment to the actors' performances. When Rick and Lily first have sex the scene often cut to their silent testimonials as we could see in their eyes the reactions they were hiding from the other person. I think it made the scene step up to a whole other level that really showed the beauty of what was happening by also showing their fears and doubts at the same time.
If there's one word I could use to describe the show I think it would be "beautiful." The series shows us that that schmaltzy, James Horner scored world that movies and television often provide us does indeed exist, it's just it's hidden deeply among the difficulties of everyday life. "Once & Again" celebrates human nature and our ties to our family - no matter how ugly and frustrating those things can be.
Anyway to finish things up, if what I said here in any way strikes a chord with you I guarantee that show will do that to you fifty-fold. While ABC is only offering a handful more chances to see the series I highly encourage you to find the show (if you already haven't - it's on Fridays at 9:00/8:00c) and if the inspiration strikes you, put into words how the show makes you feel and send it to ABC. I know the "save our show" rage is to send some sort of token that represents the show and I can't think of anything better than a heartfelt letter (I can't bring myself to cutely say "testimonial" here) from a viewer.
Many people (including our long time site friend Lynda Shulman) have been kind enough to provide us with links to where you can find more about efforts to save "Once & Again" including addresses and so forth to send your letters and thoughts:
If you have any other links or information please feel free to contact us. Oh, and I would be remissed if I didn't mention that Friday's episode of "Once & Again" did better in the overnight ratings than ABC's theatrical repeat of "Forces of Nature" last night.__thefutoncritic.com (January 15, 2002)
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