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Monday, April 22

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Airbags

Last week the Weinstein Company, which produces Project Runway, announced that the reality show will move from Bravo to Lifetime in a five-season deal. It sent ripples through the industry not only because networks rarely give up hit series but also the manner in which the switch went down. Behind-the-scenes scuttlebutt claims

According to more than a half-dozen sources inside or close to both The Weinstein Co., which owns the show, and NBC, Harvey Weinstein felt that Bravo, which aired it, had "always underpaid" for the show while "taking all of the credit" for its success.

"Harvey hates us passionately, always did," said one NBC insider. "He despises Bravo because he thinks we didn't pay him enough."

A good chunk of the $150 million from the deal could end up in the pockets of many, many lawyers as NBC Universal claims that the Weinstein Co. signed a contract with Lifetime without first presenting it to NBC Universal or allowing NBC to match or counter the offer.

Critical and cult favorite Scrubs is also jumping the Peacock ship and will most likely finish its final season on ABC. Originally slated to end its tenure at NBC, the network stopped production on the comedy six episodes from its series finale (the writers were unable to finish those scripts before the strike). And apparently ABC is also ready to scoop up CBS's The New Adventures of Old Christine if the latter decides to cancel the Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy.

Although network switching is hardly a rare phenomenon, it rarely happens to successful series mid-run. Usually, a rival network will acquire a property that is either low-rated, beloved, or a former hit on its last legs — sometimes a combination or all three. The show will then limp along for a season, maybe two, before getting the ax. In some cases, it's difficult to determine if a series' demise was inevitable or if the changeover hastened what could have been a more successful run. Here are few of the better-known casualties.

Taxi

ABC (1978-1982)
NBC (1982-1983)
Even though Taxi won 18 Emmys, including three for Outstanding Comedy Series, this show was never a ratings powerhouse on its own. After weak ratings in seasons three and four, ABC cancelled the show. NBC nabbed it and put Taxi in the same time slot with the tagline "Same time, better station." It didn't work. The Sunshine Cab Company closed its doors on June 15, 1983.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Roswell

The WB (1997–2001), UPN (2001–2003)
The WB (1999-2001), UPN (2001–2002)
Before The WB and UPN merged to form The CW, UPN snagged both sci-fi staples from the larger netlet and its main competition. Contract disputes with Buffy honchos, which many argue helped make The WB a viable commodity (along with Dawson's Creek, Charmed and Felicity), had soured, causing a prime opportunity for the seventh of the seven networks. Buffy continued for two dark seasons (eventually turning into The Spike Show) and Roswell lasted only one.

Diff'rent Strokes

NBC (1978-1985)
ABC (1985-1986)
Arnold was too old to utter his famous catchphrase, "Whatchu talkin' about, Willis?" when this series moved from NBC to ABC, but it wouldn't have mattered anyway; Todd Bridges was not on the show's final season. Gary Coleman's appeal was long gone, and the addition of a redheaded moppet named Sam only made the show more ingratiating.

Family Matters / Step by Step

ABC (1989-1997), CBS (1997-1998)
ABC (1991-1997), CBS (1997-1998)
CBS attempted to milk these former powerhouses from ABC's successful TGIF line-up, but with several main characters gone and the moppetlike kids too grown-up for marketability, these stereotypical family comedies couldn't even survive at CBS, the network that often keeps shows several years after normal expiration dates.

But there are a few modest successes as well.

Wonder Woman

ABC - Season 1 (1975-1977)
CBS - Seasons 2 and 3 (1977-1979)
This comic book series garnered strong ratings at its original home, ABC. However, the network stalled too long in its offer to the show's producers, so when CBS proposed to air the series, the cast and crew moved to the Eye — and from the WWII-era into modern times, which was one of CBS's stipulations for the pick up. Diana Prince, in her satin tights, fought for our rights for two more seasons.

Sabrina, the Teenage Witch

ABC (1996-2000)
The WB (2000-2003)
When ABC discontinued its TGIF block in 2000, this Melissa Joan Hart comedy survived for three more years on The WB.

Lastly, there are a handful of shows that went on to bigger and better success at their new networks.

J.A.G.

NBC (1995-1996)
CBS (1997-2005)
After rating 77th in its first year, this legal drama/adventure series was dropped by NBC. CBS picked it up as a midseason replacement for the following season. The ratings improved, and the show aired for an astonishing nine seasons, making it one of if not the most successful modern network switch. Of course, CBS as a network is much less likely to cancel its shows if a handful of episodes doesn't generate immediate ratings success. I'm looking at you, ABC — *cough* Eyes *cough* — although Fox is notorious for this practice as well.

Baywatch

NBC (1989-1990)
first-run syndication (1991-2001)
This David Hasselhoff vehicle — great, I just made myself think of his version of "Jump in My Car" — proved too costly for NBC (hmmm, them again). But the Hoff felt the show's "premise" was strong, so he decided to invest his own money in the venture and try the syndication market. Good choice. Soon, people all over the world watched buxom beauties running in slow motion along California beaches, hair and breasts bouncing enticingly. USA! USA! Hasselhoff was on the show for 10 of its 11 years and acquired a nice chunk of money as executive producer.

Stargate

SG-1

Showtime (Seasons 1-5)
Sci Fi (Seasons 6-10)
Based on the 1994 movie Stargate, this science fiction series flipped from pay cable to basic cable midway through its run. After its 10th season, Sci Fi announced that SG-1's television run was over. However, at least two Stargate SG-1 direct-to-DVD movies will be released this year, and its successful spin-off, Stargate: Atlantis, still airs on Sci Fi.

My Three Sons

ABC 1960-1965
CBS 1965-1972
The Douglas clan moved from ABC to CBS because the Alphabet Network did not want to foot the bill for the expense of shooting the show in color. CBS kept Fred MacMurray et al. on the air for seven more years, making it the second-longest running live-action family situation comedy. In today's market, I doubt an offering with this basis would last a dozen years.

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About the Author(s)

As a child, Dee Stiffler was only allowed to watch one hour of television a day. She usually chose Sesame Street. Today, she overcompensates by knowing far too much about the CW's lineup as well as pop culture in general. Email her at pop@gapersblock.com.

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