Shift goes against 'gentlemen's agreement'

ABC affiliates are less than thrilled with the network’s decision to sell spots to Lifetime to promote the cable channel’s Tuesday night sked of new series. The cabler’s schedule kicks off Aug. 18 and could pull viewers away from ABC’s own primetime lineup.

Doug McCormick, president and CEO of Lifetime, unveiled the plan Sunday in a talk to reporters at the TV Critics Assn.’s Cable Press Tour in Pasadena.

McCormick, boasting about the new Lifetime hourlong drama series “Any Day Now,” with Annie Potts and Lorraine Toussaint, and its two half-hour sitcoms, “Maggie,” starring Ann Cusack, and “Oh Baby” with Cynthia Stevenson — which will run every Tuesday from 9 to 11 p.m., starting Aug. 18 — said the cabler will spend more than $10 million in advertising and promotion, including the ABC spots.

“This strategy is like two F-16s in the same air force drawing a bead and firing on each other,” says Steve Kimatian, general manager of WIXT, the ABC affiliate in Syracuse, N.Y., referring to the spots, which promote the shows on Lifetime, which is half-owned by ABC. Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz TV, a firm that consults on programming matters with a number of TV station clients, including ABC affiliates, agreed.

“ABC is helping to promote a network that’s directly competitive with it. That’s moving away from the gentlemen’s agreement with its affiliates that ABC will not sell time to cable networks that will help them advertise programming on specific nights,” Carroll said.

“Tuesday is such an important night for ABC that I’m really concerned about this promotion of a cable network’s schedule,” said Marc Berman, VP and associate director of programming for Seltel, another TV station rep firm.

Berman points out that ABC is restructuring Tuesday — until recently its most dominant night — by moving “Home Improvement” to 8 p.m. from 9 p.m., and bringing Wednesday sitcom “Spin City” to the important Tuesday at 9 p.m. slot.

“ABC shouldn’t risk losing audiences by helping Lifetime (to promote its shows),” Berman said.

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