ABC faces ‘Practice’ dilemma

A battle is brewing between ABC Entertainment and ABC News, as the former wants to schedule David Kelley’s midseason drama “The Practice” in the Wednesday 10 p.m. slot currently held by the ABC News magazine “PrimeTime Live.”

ABC Entertainment chairman Ted Harbert and president Jamie Tarses will meet in New York next week with ABC president Bob Iger, Disney CEO Michael Eisner and other company execs to discuss the Alphabet web’s midseason scheduling plans. ABC Entertainment declined comment.

“The Practice” is a legal drama from Kelley, whose other credits include “Chicago Hope” and “L.A. Law.” ABC and Kelley wanted to schedule the show in the Wednesday 10-11 p.m. slot last spring for the fall sked, but couldn’t get the news division to move “PrimeTime Live” to Thursdays at 10 p.m. against the NBC powerhouse drama “ER.” Kelley also did not want the slot opposite “ER.”

ABC Entertainment execs would like to give “The Practice” a six-week run in “PrimeTime Live’s” slot this spring. But so far, ABC News seems unwilling to budge.

Bad timing

Further complicating matters is that ABC News is currently trying to extend “PrimeTime Live” co-anchor Diane Sawyer’s contract with the web, and any timeslot switch or layoff for her most prominent news vehicle would hurt negotiations.

ABC execs and Sawyer are currently in the midst of an exclusive negotiating period with the web. Her five-year, $35 million deal is up in spring ’98.

Sawyer and news division prexy Roone Arledge have successfully beaten back attempts by the entertainment division to steal away the coveted 10 p.m. Wednesday timeslot, where “PrimeTime Live” regularly beats its network competitors.

Sawyer is being hotly pursued by CBS for several possible slots, including as an eventual replacement for anchor Dan Rather.

“Everyone really, really wants to keep Diane,” said one ABC News insider, figuring that placating Kelley by bumping “PrimeTime Live” for “The Practice,” even for six weeks, would scare away Sawyer. “If they did that, that would factor into her decision on what to do.”

The dreaded Thursday

Another option would have the legal drama replace the 10 p.m. Thursday ABC newsmag “Turning Point,” due to go on hiatus anyway by March. But Kelley and Harbert likely would frown on that troublesome Thursday timeslot, even though “ER” may be replaced temporarily this spring by another midseason entry.

Monday night at 10 p.m. is out because that would mean Kelley would be competing against “Chicago Hope.” The only other option is Saturday night, which ABC would like to avoid.

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