B'casters take shot at cable

In an indirect swipe at their cable competish, the Big Six are mounting an all-out campaign to convince TV Guide and other listing services to stop identifying second and third runs of programs as repeats.

For decades, webs have voluntarily sent publications advance program listings that contain brief plot summaries of upcoming programs, as well as an indication of whether the program is an original or encore presentation. Listings services would then identify reruns with the word “repeat” or the letter (r).

By the end of the year, however, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and WB will stop telling listings services if a show is a repeat. TV Guide and other publications will still be free to make the distinction, but editors will need to do their own research to identify if a show is firstrun or repeat.

In a rare group collaboration, the heads of publicity and research for all six webs held conference calls within the past week to agree to the policy change.

Network insiders said the move was prompted by webheads’ frustration with what they view as a double standard: While any network skein that is not airing a firstrun seg gets tagged a repeat, cable and syndie shows almost never get the designation.

“It makes no sense that the a 4-year-old episode of ‘JAG’ airing at 7 p.m. on USA is labeled an original, while the second run of a ‘JAG’ episode which ran just a few months ago is called a repeat,” one web insider said. “It’s just ludicrous.”

Broadcasters believe the repeat label drives away potential viewers, inviting them to tune in cable fare that is listed as firstrun.

Network sensitivities were particularly irked earlier this month when TV Guide labeled as a “season premiere” a USA Network repeat of a 2-week-old episode of NBC’s “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.” Lifetime’s same-week repeat of ABC’s “Once and Again” is also listed as firstrun.

Web insiders also don’t understand why a second or third run of HBO’s “The Sopranos” isn’t labeled a repeat.

“All we’re asking for is a level playing field,” one network source said.

Reps for TV Guide could not be reached for comment, but when the issue has come up in the past, listings editors have generally argued that viewers know that cable runs of network shows are repeats.

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