ABC considers swapping times of its top sitcoms

TURNED ON IN L.A. -- FALL PREVIEW

July 19, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Los Angeles -- Viewers could find a big change in the ABC lineup this fall when it comes to "Roseanne" and "Home Improvement" -- the two most popular sitcoms on television.

The network is thinking of swapping time periods for the two shows in September -- moving "Roseanne" from Tuesdays at 9 to Wednesdays at 9, and moving Tim Allen's "Home Improvement" to Tuesdays.

"We're kicking that idea around," ABC Entertainment President Ted Harbert said yesterday. "We've been kicking it around since we learned of NBC's plan to move 'Frasier' to Tuesdays in the fall," he said, referring to NBC scheduling "Frasier" head-to- head on Tuesdays against "Roseanne."

"Look, all options are open. And we have to really think about what's best for both shows and what's best for the schedule," Harbert said. "This is a very serious decision. We have to decide, in general, what we think of 'Frasier.' That's what it comes down to. We have to assess that threat."

Asked why he might disrupt viewing patterns for "Roseanne" that have built up over the years, Harbert said the key was the number of years the show has been on the air.

" 'Roseanne' is going into its seventh year. 'Home Improvement' is going into its fourth year. Obviously, there's going to be a bell curve in the performance of the show. 'Roseanne' is still a very, very strong show. . . . I think if it stays Tuesdays at 9, it will beat 'Frasier' and beat it handily. But by how much is the question? My job is to schedule 'Roseanne' where it can stay that strong."

Harbert was asked more questions about "Roseanne" than any other topic yesterday.

In an answer to one about whether ABC lost advertising money by showing an episode with a lesbian kiss, he said: "Not very much. That episode did have some advertiser defection. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were pulled out. But hundreds of thousands of dollars of other advertising came in."

The bottom line probably showed ABC losing less than $100,000 on the episode, he said.

Harbert interrupted a question about the absence of Tom Arnold from the show this year by sarcastically saying, "Do you mean, 'Will we miss Tom's fine hand behind the scenes?' "

As for what Roseanne will be called after her divorce from Arnold, Harbert said, "Maybe she should have a symbol, like Prince."

On the topic of ABC's other controversial show, "NYPD Blue," Harbert said, "Halfway through the season, the outpouring of mail [critical of the show] reduced to a trickle and was replaced by an outpouring of support."

But Harbert's boss, ABC President Bob Iger, said that even though protests over nudity and harsh language have quieted, and the show is a hit in the ratings, it still is not commanding the kinds of advertising rates it should.

"The situation with 'NYPD Blue,' revenue-wise, has improved dramatically from its revenue performance last year. But we still do not get the kind [of advertising] rates for that program, given its ratings, that we would get for another program. And that's due to its controversial nature," Iger said, declining to be more specific.

Iger spent most of his session answering questions about the wild affiliate switches happening nationally -- such as the one in Baltimore that saw ABC leave WJZ after 45 years for WMAR.

Saying he did not think the switches would take place before the start of the new season, Iger predicted massive viewer confusion in coming months.

"When a network switches stations in a marketplace, it creates confusion that it takes a good long time to recover from. There's still a lot we've got to learn, once these changes start taking place. It's going to be very tricky," he said.

On another matter, Iger said he was satisfied with the way ABC covered the O. J. Simpson preliminary trial, but he has not decided how the network will cover the trial.

"I'm not happy that we lost some money, but we have some ways of getting that back," he said. "We haven't made any absolute decisions in the company in terms of how we're going to cover a trial. It's something Roone Arledge and I will have to discuss."

Ted Koppel also met with TV critics here yesterday and spent most of his session defending "Nightline" coverage -- five straight nights one week -- of the case.

"This is a terrific story. We are in the news business . . . and we're going to cover it," Koppel said.

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