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TV Notes: Barbara Walters is leaving '20/20'

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

After 25 years as host of "20/20," Barbara Walters is moving on.

The broadcaster, who has interviewed scores of the famous and infamous in a legendary television career, said Sunday that she will step down this fall from her perch at the ABC newsmagazine.

Walters, 74, will do about six interview specials a year for ABC News, including her annual pre-Oscar show. She'll also stay as executive producer and co-host of the daytime talk show "The View."

"Starting in September, I want to have more flexibility in my life without the responsibilities of a weekly newsmagazine," she said in a statement issued by ABC.

The Walters interview, often done with a soft-focus camera and featuring teary subjects, is as much a part of television news lore as Mike Wallace's intensity on "60 Minutes."

"20/20," which Walters currently co-hosts with John Stossel, is likely to continue but be less focused on major interview subjects.

The "get," the grab of a celebrity interview subject, is an increasingly important part of network news operations, and Walters, along with ABC News colleague Diane Sawyer and NBC's Katie Couric, has been among the fiercest competitors.

Among Walters' major "20/20" interview subjects were Cuban President Fidel Castro, Christopher Reeve after his riding accident, a post-indictment Martha Stewart, Sen. Hillary Clinton about her autobiography, and Patricia Hearst.

Walters' March 1999 interview with Monica Lewinsky drew a staggering 48.5 million viewers.

Walters told The New York Times that she's become uncomfortable with the pressure to find interview subjects appealing to young people who are less interested in news.

"We did Castro and it was a huge interview," she told the Times. "But we did much better in the ratings with Courteney Cox and David Arquette."

Walters was co-host of "20/20" with Hugh Downs until his retirement in 1999. Downs was replaced by John Miller, and Stossel took over when Miller left ABC News.

Walters was upset in 2001 when ABC network executives moved "20/20" from its usual Friday perch to Wednesdays, a change that proved short-lived. The episode served only to make ABC executives look bad and strengthen Walters' hand.

"20/20" is averaging just under 10 million viewers a week this season, up from 8.8 million last year.

Walters was co-host of NBC's "Today" show for 13 years before joining ABC News in 1976, where she was the first woman to anchor a network evening newscast.

(David Bauder, Associated Press)

'Jake' pulled

At a Jan. 18 press conference in front of assembled TV critics in Hollywood, UPN entertainment chief Dawn Ostroff stated, " 'Jake 2.0,' as you know, we put on hiatus."

Executive producer David Greenwalt replies, "To say we're on hiatus is about the same as saying that O.J. and Nicole Simpson are having a trial separation."

The sci-fi drama starring Chris Gorham ("Popular") as a secret agent supercharged by an infusion of nanobots -- molecule-sized computers -- struggled to find an audience all season in the very competitive Wednesday 9 p.m. time slot (also home to "The West Wing," "Angel," "The Bachelor" and "The O.C.").

But it was the performance of another UPN show in that slot that apparently was the nail in "Jake's" coffin.

"We put 'Top Model' in," Ostroff said, "and with the repeat we did a good number."

"When you've got a show like 'America's Top Model,' " Greenwalt says, "that costs a tenth of what 'Jake' does and scores better with a rerun, we're [expletive]."

But he does give UPN and studio Viacom credit for supporting the show as far as they could.

"They gave us a back nine," he says, "which became a back six."

"Jake 2.0" goes off the schedule with four unaired episodes. According to a UPN representative, no decision has been made as to when or if those episodes will air.

(Zap2it.com)

'24' on the Web

Tonight, American fans of Fox's hour-by-hour drama "24" will get to experience what U.K. fans already know -- you always hurt the one you love.

Inspired by a British show called "Pure 24," which aired after each "24" episode on BBC3, Fox is premiering "24inside," a live Web show presented from 10-10:15 p.m., right after the Eastern-time-zone airing of the night's new episode (there will be spoiler warnings). The Web address is www.24inside.com/index.htm.

Like "Pure 24," "24inside" features guests from the show, along with fans expressing opinions and asking questions in the studio audience and via phone and e-mail.

"It's that uniquely British, ironic ability to lambaste something and love it at the same time," says "24" executive producer Howard Gordon. He and series recurring star Penny Johnson Jerald, who plays Sherry Palmer, the devious ex-wife of U.S. President Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), are the guests for the first installment.

"Whether we have the tone for it remains to be seen," Gordon continues. "It's a British idiom, the ability to take something apart and love it at the same time, with equal vigor. It sounds great. I hope somebody tunes in."

(Kate O'Hare, Zap2it.com)

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