'Disney Afternoon' may find home as netlet's Nick talks stall

UPN and Buena Vista TV have resumed negotiations to run a daily two-hour Disney kids block on the netlet, sources say.

The two companies came very close to inking a deal at the NATPE convention in January, but they called off talks a week later and UPN began considering a similar pact with sister cablenet Nickelodeon (Daily Variety, Jan. 27).

Neither UPN nor Buena Vista TV would comment on the chain of events that led to the recent revival of talks on the subject, although one source said UPN’s negotiations with Nickelodeon are also still ongoing.

It’s no secret that UPN CEO Dean Valentine, who helped develop Disney’s animated series when he was president of network TV and TV animation there, would like to have Disney’s kids product on his network.

Mort Marcus, head of Disney’s syndication division Buena Vista TV, is also anxious to find a home for the Disney-Kellogg Alliance, formerly known as the Disney Afternoon. Timeslots for the syndie kids block have been gobbled up as emerging networks UPN and the WB expand.

When talks broke down, sources said the unresolved issues were branding and the amount of FCC-friendly programming, but others speculated that corporate synergy was the true deal-breaking culprit.

Disney may have been concerned about launching a branded Disney kids block on a network that competes with ABC, although a weekday UPN lineup could actually help promote and feed interest in ABC’s Saturday-morning lineup.

Viacom-owned Nickelodeon also may have been worried about UPN launching a Disney kids block that would compete with its dominant kids lineup.

A programming deal with Nickelodeon presents its own problems, though. Sources say some cable operators are furious at the prospect of Nickelodeon programming losing its cable exclusivity, which is viewed as a main reason people subscribe.

UPN could simply be using its Nickelodeon option to get some negotiating leverage with Disney. The talks between UPN and Buena Vista the last time around involved a two-hour block Monday through Friday and Sunday mornings, starting by fall 1999.

- John Dempsey in New York and Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.

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