Warning from Seltel

TV stations that buy some or all of the six new hourlong action series powering their way into TV syndication between now and September could run afoul of the anti-violence crusaders in Washington.

That’s the worry Janeen Bjork, VP and director of programming for the Seltel rep firm, conveyed to TV station clients Monday at the National Assn. of Television Program Executives confab. Seltel’s annual report on new syndicated series warned that the Federal Communications Commission could decide to make an example of stations that are saturating schedules with “too many car crashes and too many bodies being pitched through plate-glass windows.”

“Because stations are trying to be conscientious about what they put on their schedules,” Bjork said, “the syndicators of these action shows keep telling them not to worry, that there’ll be lots of action but no violence. The pitch is that you’ll see a moving car blow up but you won’t see anybody get killed. You may see somebody getting shot, but you won’t see blood.

“To me, that’s a phony distinction — I don’t buy it.”

The FCC may not buy it either, she said.

Caution advised

So Seltel is urging its stations to be cautious about taking these action shows, not only because of the violence but because a batch of them are holding back nine minutes of commercial time (instead of the traditional seven minutes) to sell to national advertisers, leaving only five minutes from which stations can draw revenue. Bjork is convinced that if enough stations boycott the onerous 9/5 barter split, distributors will be forced to modify the terms.

Another point Bjork made in her presentation is that, in general, distributors are right when they say that stations are becoming “constipated and bound up” when it comes to laying out money for new shows. Stations are waiting longer before they commit to buying untried new series, she said, because “it often takes more than one sweep-period rating book for a show to find an audience.”

Stations in Nielsen-metered markets are postponing new-show purchases for weeks while they study the overnight ratings, she said, and non-metered-market stations are in some cases holding off from buying new series until they see how borderline shows perform in the February sweeps.

Stars boost pre-sales

Bjork said stations are optimistic that more star names are in the pilots making the rounds of the convention, everyone from Suzanne Somers and Susan Powter to Lee Horsely and Hulk Hogan. Stars mean pre-sell, which “will give a new series a better chance to get viewers to sample it right off the bat,” she said.

On the most highly touted new strip at the convention, Warner Bros.’ “Entertainment News Television,” Bjork said she understands why the studio declined to produce a pilot — it’s afraid competing magazine strips will rip off the most interesting ideas before “ENT” even goes into production.

But stations may not be as understanding, she said, because they have no idea what “ENT” is going to look like. Stations have saddled themselves with some colossal failures in the past by committing to shows without a pilot, she continued, and they may decide to pass on the new one.

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