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A not-so-grand finale

For complicated reasons, ABC will bring back The Drew Carey Show this summer for a final run. Not that many people seem to care.

By Associated Press
Published May 3, 2004

NEW YORK - For all the attention given to this week's Friends finale, another long-running comedy taped its final episode a few weeks ago, and few people outside its Hollywood set were aware of it.

The finale of The Drew Carey Show is expected to air on ABC this summer.

That the show exists for its ninth season has more to do with a classically bad business deal than any sense viewers want to see it.

"You can point to a lot of things that ABC did. They did a lot of things that were dumb," said Sam Simon, who directed the final episode. "And I think this was one of them."

Smart and stylish - a blue-collar comedy set in Cleveland where the principals would occasionally break into a show tune - Carey's show once was one of ABC's crown jewels. In the 1996-97 season, it averaged 17-million viewers, and that was the first of three straight years it was in Nielsen Media Research's top 20.

The show's popularity was fading in 2001, but it still seemed savvy when ABC reached a deal with Warner Bros. Television, the show's producer, to keep it on the air through 2004.

Then the bottom fell out.

Viewers may simply have tired of the amiable, bespectacled comedian. Between his show and hosting Whose Line Is It Anyway? he logged a lot of face time on the network.

Or they may have tired of trying to find The Drew Carey Show. The program premiered on Wednesday night, and it has inhabited four time slots on that day. It has also been shown regularly on Tuesday. And Thursday. And Friday. And Monday.

In the middle of last season, ABC took it off the air, and the network burned off many of the episodes during the summer.

ABC didn't even bother putting the show on this season. New episodes will premiere June 2, and the network will show two first-run episodes a week during the summer, the television equivalent of an afterthought.

If all this annoys the star, he's not letting on.

"I don't have anything bad to say about ABC," Carey said. "I never will. I only tried to do a good show. After that, it's out of my hands."

As is often the case in the creative community, the show was effectively orphaned because the people who greenlighted it lost their jobs, Simon said.

"If the people who put the show on the air at ABC were still there, we'd still be on the air, and we'd still be a hit," he said. "It's just an embarrassment to new regimes when other shows do better than the ones they put on the air."

ABC entertainment's most recent management team, Lloyd Braun and Susan Lyne, lost their jobs last month.

It's not as if ABC is swimming in hits. The schedule has so many holes that there would seem to be room for Carey, particularly when ABC is paying around $3-million an episode for the show.

Nobody at ABC or Warner Bros. would talk about it, but Warner probably has a financial incentive to continue production because the show is popular in syndication - where the real money is made in television - and this gives Warner more episodes to sell.

So it means the final season of The Drew Carey Show was produced in a virtual vacuum. Few people knew when, or if, the episodes would make it on the air.

"On the other hand . . . it was a little bit liberating," Simon said. "There were no notes coming from the network. . . . They didn't seem really concerned about the character arcs or about promoting the characters they think America wants to see."

Longtime fans will enjoy watching the journey some characters take during the final season. Carey must decide whether to marry his pregnant girlfriend in the show's final episode.

The end had to be bittersweet, particularly compared with this week at NBC, where the Friends cast is exiting with a paroxysm of national mourning and $2-million-a-pop commercial spots.

"It was strange," Simon said. "It was really strange."

[Last modified May 3, 2004, 01:05:16]

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