ABC sends ‘Shirley’ home

ABC reportedly has reversed a decision to add the Canadian talk show “Shirley” to its daytime schedule in mid-April and may have to swallow the show’s estimated $ 65,000-a-week license fee.

The decision — apparently made based on affiliate reluctance to picking up an unknown Canadian talk show with so much higher-profile syndicated fare on the market — reportedly has left ABC scrambling to find a replacement and may compel the network to seek to retain the “Home” show, which “Shirley” was supposed to replace.

Commitment alleged

ABC declined comment, but at least one source said the web may have committed to more than a year’s worth of the hour show under a pay-or-play deal. At the time the deal was announced in early January, Canadian web CTV said the U.S. network had agreed to acquire “more than 200 episodes” (a minimum 40 weeks) of the audience-participation series, meaning the web’s cash outlay could be anywhere from $ 2.6 million to more than $ 4 million.

“Shirley” was scheduled to replace the 5-year-old “Home,” produced by Reeves Entertainment, starting April 12. Insiders say Dennis Swanson, president of daytime and children’s programming as well as ABC Sports, made the “Shirley” deal in an effort to reduce costs of programming daytime, but the decision backfired because affiliate clearances probably wouldn’t have made a launch of the show viable.

ABC was able to negotiate a more favorable license fee with distributor D.L. Taffner because “Shirley” already airs on CTV, meaning revenue from ABC could be viewed as a bonus. Hosted by Shirley Solomon, the audience-participation show is produced in Toronto and has been airing in Canada since 1989.

‘John & Leeza’ hot

Some stations reportedly wanted ABC to go after the Paramount talker “John & Leeza”– featuring “Entertainment Tonight’s” Leeza Gibbons and John Tesh — which was snapped up by NBC for an offer reportedly worth about four times the weekly license fee on “Shirley.”

Short of a new deal extending the life of “Home,” ABC would be hard-pressed to find a replacement before it ends on April 9. ABC already dropped a half-hour from its daytime schedule recently, paring down to 4 1/2 hours of programming daily, compared to five hours on CBS and four hours from NBC. All three webs have been forced to return time to affiliates in the daypart over the last year.

Soaps clean up

Although it runs second to CBS in households, ABC usually leads in daytime among women age 18-49, the key sales demographic, thanks to its soaps “All My Children,””One Life to Live” and “General Hospital.” ABC reportedly considered going to an all-soap daytime lineup, making overtures to Columbia Pictures TV about NBC series “Days of Our Lives,” though CPT stayed with the Peacock web.

“Shirley” wouldn’t be the first time Swanson has tried to improve the web’s financial picture in one of the dayparts he oversees by carrying at least one show at a diminished license fee. ABC has made similar moves regarding Saturday morning, picking up “Pirates of Dark Water” for the 1991-92 season in part because supplier Hanna-Barbera was said to have agreed to a reduced fee of about $ 80,000 per episode — slightly more than one-third the norm for kidvid shows.

Officials at Taffner and Reeves couldn’t be reached for comment.

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