Mozark, CBS: ‘Hearts’ burn

CBS will reportedly seek to mollify star producers Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason by moving “Hearts Afire” out of its scheduled Friday fall time period — instead delaying the show until after the World Series and premiering it on another night.

The move was apparently made after a consistent lobbying campaign from the producing duo, who through their Mozark Prods. produce the hit CBS series “Evening Shade” (in association with CBS Entertainment Prods. and MTM TV) and have a major five-series deal with the network.

“Hearts,” starring John Ritter and Markie Post, aired Mondays at 8:30 p.m. all last season, but when CBS announced its fall lineup in May, series was set for Fridays at 9. That scheduling was said to irk the Thomasons, who considered Friday a deadly night for new series — stating in recent interviews that the same time period essentially did in their longrunning CBS series “Designing Women.”

Two months of wrangling between the web and the producers have followed, with the couple pressing for a different night and offering to pair the series with a new comedy created by Bloodworth-Thomason. Mozark talked to Tom Arnold about producing his CBS sitcom as a companion for “Hearts,” and has subsequently been in discussions with former “Designing Women” star Delta Burke.

In exchange for the time period shift, the Thomasons will reportedly allow CBS to reduce its second-year commitment from a full-season order to midseason status, indicating a drop from 22 to 13 episodes.

Neither CBS nor the Thomasons could be reached for comment.

“Hearts” was supposed to return for its second term Sept. 24, but speculation has lingered for weeks that the series might not be available for the fall.

At the same time, CBS has been saying it will try out a number of sitcoms starting in late August and will now apparently have to slide one of those shows into “Hearts’ “Friday slot.

Two of the new series, “The Building” and “The Boys,” will premiere from 9-10 p.m. Fridays starting Aug. 20. Both are from CBS Entertainment Prods., the first with Columbia Pictures TV, the latter with Twentieth TV.

CBS will also introduce sitcoms “The Trouble With Larry” (already scheduled for fall) and “Tall Hopes” on Aug. 25 from 8-9 p.m., with the reality series “How’d They Do That?” expected to move over and fill the lead-off Friday hour from Aug. 20 until new Warner Bros. TV comedies “It Had to be You” and “Family Album” arrive Sept. 24.

Another replacement sitcom, Paramount’s “Big Wave Dave’s,” is also in production.

There is precedent for producers and studios exercising scheduling control over networks — particularly if they have a hit show that’s beyond its option year and can be peddled elsewhere.

CBS has been aggressive in rewarding A-list producers with time periods, last season slotting “Hearts” and Shukovsky English Entertainment’s “Love & War” in the powerful Monday lineup.

Similarly, ABC gave producer James L. Brooks, with whom it has a multiseries deal, the coveted slot between “Full House” and “Roseanne” for his “Phenom” this fall, while Carsey-Werner and Paramount for years commanded NBC slots behind respective hits “The Cosby Show” and “Cheers.”

Still, the current situation involves less an exercise of leverage than a prized producer team essentially vetoing what they deemed to be an undesirable time period — prompting an about-face that underscores one danger of multiseries commitments and that probably won’t sit well with other suppliers lacking that kind of clout.

One complicating factor for CBS is that the network has already been selling time in the upfront advertising market based on the assumption that “Hearts Afire” would be airing Friday night, leading into “Good Advice,” another sophomore sitcom from TriStar TV. Except for “Hearts,” the fall Friday lineup is expected to be in place starting Sept. 24.

In addition to the time period shift, “Hearts Afire” will change its focus and venue next season, moving from Washington to a rural setting. The series averaged a 14.3 rating, 22 share in Nielsen last season airing between “Evening Shade” and “Murphy Brown,” which averaged a 14.5/22 and 17.9/26, respectively.

CBS will begin introducing most of its fall programs in mid-September, with fresh “Rescue 911” episodes and a new CBS Tuesday movie set for Sept. 14, “In the Heat of the Night” leading off Thursdays starting Sept. 16 and the season premiere of “60 Minutes” Sept. 19.

Entire Monday lineup will be in place Sept. 20, which is expected to mark the official start of the 1993-94 season. Except for “Hearts” the Friday, Saturday and Sunday rosters will be in pattern starting Sept. 24, with “Murder, She Wrote” beginning its 10th season Sept. 26.

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