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NBC ‘Witness’ takes ad hit

Advertisers continue to shy away from so-called controversial programming, and NBC’s made-for-TV movie “Witness to the Execution,” set to air Sunday, appears to be the latest casualty.

Media buyers said spots still available for “Witness to the Execution” are going at a fire-sale rate of $ 50,000 per 30-second spot — well below the normal $ 80,000-$ 100,000 range for a 30-second Sunday night spot during a sweeps month.

“Don’t buy till Friday afternoon,” one media buyer recommended.

An NBC spokesperson said the movie was 75% sold and the network expects to sell out the entire broadcast.

Besides competition from CBS’ Winter Olympics, the telepic is also facing the backlash of the anti-violence crusade taking place in Washington.

“It’s terribly frustrating,” Warren Littlefield, president of NBC Entertainment, said at a Wednesday forum on quality TV sponsored by TV Guide.

The movie’s executive producer, former ABC chief Fred Pierce, said the movie is anti-violence and added that he is “damn proud of it.”

Littlefield and Warner Bros. Television president Leslie Moonves criticized advertisers for not standing by such programming.

“Advertisers should stand up and not run when a Terry Rakoltaor Rev. Donald Wildmon says ‘boo,’ ” Moonves said.

But perception is everything, and it is no longer just Wildmon and Rakolta making noise. Congress and Attorney General Janet Reno are also sounding off on violence, causing many advertisers to steer clear.

Representing advertisers at the forum, Bill Croasdale, president, network broadcast, of Western Intl. Media, said it’s not fair to blacken the entire advertising community, and warned that CEOs of major advertisers don’t like to come home to mail criticizing their advertising decisions.

Croasdale, who said the networks tend to promote the most violent or sensational moments of a show, was critical of the practice. Steven Bochco’s declaration that “NYPD Blue” would push the envelope, Croasdale said, “sent advertisers scurrying for cover.”

ABC, which is still facing a tough sell with “NYPD Blue,” will likely face the same situation should it run the “Roseanne” episode that shows the lead character kissing another woman in a gay bar. “The show will take a hit,” Croasdale said.

Once the hype over a show dies down, ad sales will improve, he added. “NYPD Blue” will not have a problem with advertisers next year, Croasdale said.

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