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"Muppets' Wizard of Oz" fall-out continues

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"Muppets' Wizard of Oz" fall-out continues

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If you thought that Dorothy got badly spun around when her farmhouse was sucked up into that tornado, wait 'til you hear about what Disney's spinmeisters are trying to do with "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz."

In the wake of the lackluster reviews and less-than-impressive ratings that this TV movie recieved last Friday night, the Mouse has been reportedly working overtime these past few days in an effort to get some positive press going for Miss Piggy & pals. Supposedly reaching out in all sorts of directions to make sure that people get the new "up-to-date" (Read that as: "positively spun") info on this show.

As in: "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" didn't just pull in 7.6 million viewers last Friday night. According to Nielsen's recently revised ratings for May 20th: This TV movie actually pulled in 7.8 million viewers. Which means that "Oz" was the second highest rated program of the night.

Then -- when you factor in the number of kids & teens who allegedly tuned in just to view "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" -- the story that Disney is now trying to put out there is that this TV movie reportedly exceeded ABC's expectations. That network execs -- while they were obviously disappointed that "Oz" didn't actually win its time slot -- were still very impressed by this TV special's solid performance. Which is why discussions are supposedly already underway on a Muppet follow-up project.

Which -- admittedly -- would be great news for Muppet fans. IF this were what was actually being said over at the Alphabet network.

The reality is -- no matter how upbeat the Disney spinmeisters are trying to be about this TV movie -- ABC execs have a very different take on what actually happened with "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz."

Said one unnamed executive:

"We did our very first promotion for this TV movie back in December as part of Disney's annual Christmas special. We then followed that up with a carefully mapped out campaign which targeted each conceivable segment of the theoretical Muppet audience. We went after the kids by placing an Ashanti music video that featured clips from the film in heavy rotation over on the Disney Channel. We then went after their moms by placing lots of ad time on SoapNet.

In the weeks immediately prior to the airing of this TV movie, we even created 'Oz' commercials which were played on ABC's hottest two shows, 'Desperate Housewives' and 'Lost.' We also had the characters put in promotional appearances on 'AFHV,' 'Regis & Kelly' and 'Jimmy Kimmel' where clips from 'Oz' were aired.

In theory, we did everything we could to make this project's profile as high as possible. And after all that effort -- plus the windows at Macys and the picture's premiere at Tribeca -- the show still doesn't win its timeslot? Come on. That's a disaster.

Months & months of marketing and to only pull in 7.8 million viewers. I don't care what the pro-Muppet flaks over at Disney are saying. That TV movie was a huge disappointment for us."

Looking back over ABC's performance on Friday nights over the past five weeks, it becomes pretty obvious that what this exec is saying is true. That the Alphabet network really didn't get much bang for its buck when it came to "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz."

May 20, 2005 - ABC (for the entire 8 - 11 p.m. time slot) averaged a 4.7 rating with a 9 share
May 13, 2005 - ABC (for the entire 8 - 11 p.m. time slot ) averaged a 5.5 rating with a 10 share
May 6, 2005 - ABC (for the entire 8 - 11 p.m. time slot ) averaged a 4.5 rating with 8 share
April 29, 2005 - ABC (for the entire 8 - 11 p.m. time slot) averaged a 5.1 rating with 9 share
April 22, 2005 - ABC (for the entire 8 - 11 p.m. slot) averaged a 5.0 rating with a 9

All that promotion, all that extra effort on Disney & ABC's part ... And "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" still didn't help the network win a Friday night during the crucial May Sweeps period. With the ratings of this expensive TV movie barely measuring up to the numbers that much-more-affordable episodes of "Hope & Faith" and "America's Funniest Home Videos" usually pull in in these same time slots.

Now some folks at Disney will tell you that it really doesn't matter how "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" did in the ratings last Friday night. But that what actually does matter is how the DVD version of this TV movie sells when it finally hits store shelves on August 9th. That it's what "Oz" earns when the DVD goes up for sale that will ultimately determine what Disney does next with the Muppets.

Well, if that's really the case, then this really doesn't bode well for our felt friends. Given that Buena Vista Home Entertainment seem to have little to no confidence in "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz."

"And why would you say something like that, Jim?," you ask. Well, take a look at what's being released to stores on the very same day as "Oz": "The Muppet Show: The Complete First Season" DVD set.

"Why is Disney doing that?," you query. It's simple, really. Buena Vista Home Entertainment isn't all that sure that it's going to be able to move many units of "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz." Which is why -- inside each "The Muppet Show: The Complete First Season" set -- there's supposed to be a rebate coupon which reportedly offers DVD buyers $3 back if they also agree to buy a copy of "Oz."

BVHE is also reportedly talking with a number of major retailers about giving consumers a price break (in the first week that both of these DVDs are available) if they agree to buy "The Muppet Show: The Complete First Season" and "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" at the same time.

So -- when you get right down to it -- Buena Vista Home Entertainment is deliberately attempting to tie "Oz" to the much-anticipated release of "The Muppet Show" DVD set. With the hope that the hotter of the two products will then help drive up sales of the much-less desirable item.

Which brings us back to what happens next with the Muppets. Given that it now seems somewhat iffy that the "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" is going to sell well on DVD, what does the future hold for Miss Piggy and pals? There are already rumors flying around that the proposed "Oz" follow-up project (AKA "The Muppets' Alice in Wonderland") has been put on hold. More to the point, that ABC officials are now understandably reluctant to greenlight production of that new Muppet-based reality series, "America's Next Muppet."

In the wake of this rolling disaster, what can the Walt Disney Company do to turn this situation around? Get the public excited about Kermit & Co. again? What does the Mouse have do to in order to make the Muppets seem commercially viable once more?

Come back on Monday and I'll introduce you to someone who has a few ideas ...

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