ABC affil threatens to preempt series

'Ellen' backlash prompts skedding of 'Seinfeld'

NEW YORK — A potentially serious breach between ABC and its affiliated stations could begin Wednesday if WSYX, the ABC affiliate in Columbus, Ohio, goes ahead with its plan to preempt the network’s new 9:30 p.m. sitcom, “Two Guys, a Girl & a Pizza Place,” with reruns of “Seinfeld.”

WSYX’s promotion director Ron Thielman says the station will play “Seinfeld” reruns for the next 10 weeks in the Wednesday 9:30 timeslot.

The Alphabet web’s plan is to have “Two Guys” run for six weeks beginning March 11, and “Ellen” return to the time period after “Two Guys” completes its tenure.

‘Ellen’ the real target

The G.M. of WSYX, Sam Stallworth, was traveling, but the station’s owner, Barry Baker, says the goal of the plan is to target “Ellen,” not the new sitcom, so the strategy might get delayed by six weeks before the “Seinfeld” reruns make their primetime debut on WSYX. “We have a problem with the content” of “Ellen,” Baker says, referring to the lesbian title character, played by Ellen DeGeneres. The station strips “Seinfeld” reruns Monday through Saturday at 11:30 p.m. and averages a solid 7 Nielsen rating.

Whether “Seinfeld” ends up replacing “Two Guys” or “Ellen” on WSYX, “this is a significant move because a top 50 affiliate is showing very little faith in the ABC network,” says Marc Berman, associate program director of Seltel, the rep firm, which advises TV-station clients on their programming decisions. Columbus is the 34th largest market in the U.S.

Berman says, “This could be a warning sign to other affiliates, who are tied to a network that just finished in fourth place among adults 18 to 49 in the February sweeps.”

The preempting of a primetime series by a network affiliate “is very unusual these days,” says Carroll, because of the increased compensation payments networks began making to their stations four or five years ago to keep them from bolting to a rival network.

In exchange for the extra money, affiliates agreed to stop preempting primetime series on the network except for big one-shot local events like climatic disasters, telethons or major sports contests.

Nets passing the hat

But ABC and CBS have upset some of their affiliates in the last few weeks by trying to get stations to pony up cash as a way to help defray the huge cost of the new eight-year contracts the networks have signed with the National Football League.

Similarly, NBC is also getting the cold shoulder from a number of its affils over the network’s proposal to extract payment for the $13-million-an-episode NBC shelled out to Warner Bros. to keep “ER” on its schedule for three more years.

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