‘Roseanne’ talks set

ABC will initiate renewal negotiations this week with the Carsey-Werner Co. regarding “Roseanne,” ABC Entertainment prez Ted Harbert said Monday.

The network remains in a first-negotiation, first-refusal position on the sitcom, still an enormous hit in its sixth season. The show is in its final year under a reported two-year, $ 2 million-per-episode deal.

There was much public acrimony last season between ABC officials and the show’s star and exec producer, Roseanne and Tom Arnold, due to the cancellation of “The Jackie Thomas Show.” But Harbert, speaking to visiting TV critics in Pasadena, described his relationship with the couple — who’ve signed with Carsey-Werner to do the show through an eighth season — as “terrific.”54

Carsey-Werner produces the show and also provides ABC the first-year sitcom “Grace Under Fire,” the current beneficiary of the coveted slot behind “Home Improvement.”

In addition, Harbert announced separately that ABC has extended a six-episode commitment to the company on a new, female-oriented hourlong comedy-variety series, “The Better Sex Show,” from writers Bonnie and Terry Turner (“Wayne’s World”). That series will likely air this spring or summer.

In other scheduling news, ABC said the latest series from James L. Brooks’ Gracie Films, the animated comedy “The Critic,” will air at 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays starting Jan. 26 — the premiere sandwiched between episodes of “Home Improvement.” Another show from blue-chip creative auspices, Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz’s “My So-Called Life,” may be held until the summer, Harbert said.

Harbert also confirmed plans to test packaging the web’s Saturday movie slot as the “ABC Family Movie” through February, using theatricals like “Problem Child 2” and “The Parent Trap.” If successful, the concept could result in a regular franchise mixing features with family-oriented made-fors — a relatively low-cost approach to the night. “It’s very difficult to go in and spend $ 1 million an hour on a 12 share,” he noted.

The exec also weighed in regarding TV movie content, saying ABC has done fewer true-crime stories this year and would seek to reduce the mix further. Harbert pointed out the dilemma is that “the audience goes for (the genre).”

Nevertheless, Harbert said ABC won’t do a telefilm dealing with the Menendez case (projects are in development at NBC and CBS, with another for syndication from Saban Entertainment) and has passed on movies regarding such high-profile stories as Heidi Fleiss and Lorena Bobbitt. During remarks earlier in the day, ABC TV Network Group prexy Robert Iger gave a short preview of today’s Superhighway Summit, saying he anticipated more multiplexing in the future to capitalize on expanded channel capacity, citing the possibility of a separate ABC news or entertainment channel to go along with ESPN and ESPN2.

The exec acknowledged that such services compete with affiliates but stressed that the network remains ABC’s core business and that he sees the future of that medium as “rosy” at this point.

Iger cautioned, however, about the need for government regulation to protect free, over-the-air television, noting that most new innovations would be expensive, at least in the near term. Saying the tube will become more a communications device, and not just a means of delivering entertainment, Iger fretted about technology “polarizing (consumers) into information haves, or video haves, and have-nots.”

While declining to discuss figures, ABC acknowledged that “NYPD Blue” remains a losing financial proposition due to advertiser resistance and said the network wasn’t eager to take on another challenge of that sort.

On the subject of televised violence, Iger said he strongly opposes any legislative efforts to regulate TV content, calling the prospect of government intervention “dangerous and frightening.”

“I don’t think the networks, when it comes to violence, have anything to be guilty about,” he said. Asked why the networks have become a target in Washington, Iger said they’re “an easy mark,” adding, “The people who watch us the least want to (regulate) us the most.”

Turning to talent, the ABC honcho said keeping Diane Sawyer, who’s reportedly been courted by CBS News, is “a real priority for us,” with the “PrimeTime Live” host’s contract due to expire in the next few weeks.

Iger wouldn’t comment on published reports that ABC is courting John Madden — soon to be homeless on the football front — to join the “Monday Night Football” team next season.

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