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Fans intensify fight to save 'Once and Again'

Monday, March 04, 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:


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