LOS ANGELES—ABC announced Monday that it is cancelling Yeltsin!, the struggling two-year-old sitcom starring Russian president Boris Yeltsin.
Though network executives did not give a reason for the cancellation, it is believed that Yeltsin's poor comedic skills—including his oafish, mistimed delivery of his character's catchphrase, "You got that right, sister!"—were to blame.
Writers for the show were also frustrated by the star's frequent comas, which made it "nearly impossible" for the Russian premier to memorize his lines.
"Sooner or later," Entertainment Weekly television critic Owen McCready said, "the stress of doing 26 shows a year portraying a divorced father of three who moves to Pittsburgh to start a new life, in addition to having to lead Russia, was bound to take its toll."
Yeltsin!, which also stars comedian Mark Curry and former 227 star Jackée, debuted in September 1995, touted by ABC as the cornerstone of its much-hyped Tuesday-night line-up. Though the show's debut episode finished third in the Nielsens, it has since slipped dramatically, tying for 54th this past week with CBS's Everybody Loves Raymond.
Until a replacement show can be found, Yeltsin!'s 8:30 time slot will be filled with classic episodes of Madam's Place, the irreverent early-'80s comedy featuring the bawdy humor of wise-cracking puppet Madam and a supporting cast that includes sexy redhead Judy Landers as Madam's comely niece.
Yeltsin! producers were surprised that the show's ratings continued to drop this season, in light of the September 1996 addition of Bosnian leader Slobodan Milosevic to the cast.
"We thought, if the public isn't responding to a Russian political leader in a light-comedy setting, why not 'up the ante,' so to speak, by giving them a Bosnian one as well," executive producer Barbara Baum said. "Apparently, though, the addition of Milosevic to the show's already-impressive supporting cast was a case of 'too little, too late.' It's sad when you put your all into a project, only to see it end like this."
Many television industry insiders say the writing was on the wall for Yeltsin! in April 1996, when the star mysteriously disappeared for several weeks, with an explanation written into the show's scripts that he had "just gone down to the store for a loaf of bread."
Yeltsin's ballyhooed return came in the May 3 episode, in which he walked into the apartment carrying several bags of loaves, exclaiming, "Whew! Now that's a lot of bread, you got that right, sister!" to resounding applause from the studio audience. Many observers, however, felt that the show's producers had not adequately explained his absence from the storyline and suspected them of trying to hide a more serious problem with the program's ailing star.
Baum denies this. "There's no truth to the rumor that Boris was unable to fulfill his television obligations due to a series of top-secret surgeries to remove eaten stage props from his stomach," she said. "The tabloids love that kind of stuff, and I'm sure it sells papers, but it's just not true."
Baum also denied persistent rumors that Yeltsin is involved romantically with Alyssa Milano, his co-star in the 1995 made-for-TV movie Exchange Student 2: Junior Year Abroad.
Yeltsin himself remains optimistic, both about his show-business future and the future of Russia. In a videotaped message from his oxygen-tented sickbed near Gdansk, Yeltsin smiled warmly to reporters, saying, "I hope my fans will all tune in to see me, TV's Yeltsin, in my upcoming role as host of Sightings on the Sci-Fi Channel, debuting in March. The future of Russia has never looked better, and her people have never been stronger or happier. I am strong as an ox. There will be no need for any coup or other governmental overthrow. This has been a recording."