Rival nets keep ‘Step’

NEW YORK — Maybe they should change the name to “Step by Step by Step by Step.”

Warner Bros.’ “Step by Step” could wind up airing twice on the same night … on different networks.

A battle is brewing over how soon long-running sitcoms “Step” and “Family Matters” can shift from ABC to CBS, which swiped them last spring in a deal with the series’ producer, Miller-Boyett-Warren Prods.

The dilemma stems from CBS’ decision to jump-start the official Sept. 22 season debut week by premiering its new Friday family slate a week early, on Sept. 19.

ABC has been burning off original episodes of the Suzanne Somers-Patrick Duffy starrer “Step by Step” this summer, and a decision to extend those airings into mid-September would run smack up against CBS’ attempt to make an early dent in the Alphabet web’s “TGIF” dominance.

The central issue is whether any contractual language agreed to by the networks and Warner Bros. spells out when ABC’s rights terminate and when CBS’ begin. ABC execs are said to be pushing Warner Bros. to derail CBS’ early-debut plans, since ABC’s own replacement schedule doesn’t begin until a week later.

ABC believes it has rights to air both series until the end of the official 1996-97 broadcast season on Sept. 21, and remains coy about its plans. “We have not set our schedule for that night,” an ABC spokesman said.

But studio contracts normally set Aug. 31 as the date when a departing show must leave the sked, and ABC’s current plan is to shelve both shows at least on the following week.

ABC’s new Friday sked starting Sept. 26 leaves the distinct possibility of an overlap a week earlier. Though unlikely, legal action is possible between one or both nets and the studio.

Ironically, when CBS acquired the shows, ABC mocked its rival, suggesting it was only too pleased to have “Family Matters” and “Step by Step” go away after eight and six seasons, respectively.

CBS insiders believe ABC is merely seeking to sabotage its plans, and contend the Alphabet is trying to exact revenge for the poaching. “They may be saber-rattling a bit,” one CBS exec said. “But we figure the more noise they make about it, the more they look like crybabies.”

ABC has moved reruns of “Family Matters” from Fridays to Saturdays over the summer, but “Step’s” last original episode aired Aug. 15 on ABC in “Matters’ ” old Friday slot. Both will be joined on CBS by a third Miller-Boyett-Warren sitcom, “Meego,” picked up as part of the new deal, along with “The Gregory Hines Show,” from Columbia TriStar and CBS Prods.

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