It's a sign of our times, in more ways than one. ABC ended its Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday tradition of airing the classic 1956 film "The Ten Commandments" since its length might cut into the network's big, depraved hit "Desperate Housewives."
It might seem like the age has ended where classic films can still score a ratings bonanza on the broadcast networks, especially when people who appreciate them can own them at home and watch them on videotape or DVD whenever they want. Graying parents remember gathering around the tube for the annual CBS airing of "The Wizard of Oz," which happened every year from 1956 to 1998. That wonderful tradition is gone.
But this age is not really on the ash heap of TV history. In 2003, Cecil B. DeMille's "Exodus" epic was the highest-rated ABC show of the week. After worrying about the bloom coming off the Biblical rose and removing it from the Lenten lineup in 1999, ABC won Sunday night with it in 2000 and 2002. Last year, it averaged 10.2 million viewers on Palm Sunday, another strong ratings number for an almost 50-year-old movie. Shamelessly bumped this year to the Saturday night before Palm Sunday for a "Desperate" rerun, the film suffered its smallest TV audience on record -- fewer than seven million viewers.
It's a shame, since the film has great drama, imposing special effects, and even a desperate wife in Anne Baxter's conflicted Nefretiri, who loved Moses but was left with Rameses. It's a wonderful story, one of the very few times children watching broadcast television can contemplate the presence of God, and miracles and the sacred mysteries of the Bible. It stands in shocking relief to everything nihilistic and "modern" that has polluted just about all of today's television dramas.
Sadly, the Moses-shoving gambit didn't cause any headaches for Team Disney. Among the 18- to 49-year-olds ABC ravenously desires, the new Easter episode of "Desperate Housewives" beat CBS, NBC, Fox and WB combined and was the most watched program in the country on Easter -- more than 24 million Americans -- and none of the troubled yet saucy suburbanites was swallowed up by the Red Sea as a sign of God's displeasure. Hollywood programmers no doubt would prefer to suggest that people watch middle-aged vixens with their plastic-surgery alterations dancing before the golden calf of hedonism over stuffy, lecturing old Moses.