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ABC, UPN exex trumpet rallies

'Millionaire' fuels Alphabet boost

PASADENA — ABC and UPN — two webs that spent most of the late 1990s entrenched in various Nielsen circles of hell — are starting off 2000 on a much better note.

That’s the word from execs at the networks formerly known as beleaguered, who spent the weekend talking up their respective turnarounds to journos gathered for the winter 2000 Television Critics Assn. press tour.

Boosted by the booming dot-com economy and the whammo perf of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” the Alphabet web raked in more than a billion dollars in revenue during the fourth quarter of 1999 — its best-ever quarterly revenue tally and first-ever billion dollar frame, according to ABC Television Network prexy Pat Fili-Krushel.

“The final year of the century represented a significant financial turnaround at the ABC Television Network,” Fili-Krushel said, citing “the powerful advertising marketplace … our continued cost management, last year’s groundbreaking deal with our affiliates and our agreement with our principal union NABET” as reasons for the comeback.

“Millionaire” remains the brightest light at ABC, and the Regis Philbin-hosted quizzer received frequent props from Alphabet execs Saturday.

As easy as MBC?

“There are some people who have suggested that we change our name to MBC, Millionaire Broadcasting Co.,” Fili-Krushel quipped. “And the fact is, the phenomenon that is ‘Millionaire’ is truly remarkable.”

ABC Entertainment Television Group co-chairman Stu Bloomberg expressed equal humility over the gameshow’s success: “It just seems that there is no stopping it.

“The halo from this show shines very brightly indeed,” he said. “Every single series on our schedule has its highest ratings of the season on nights that ‘Millionaire’ airs.”

”Millionaire” continued its torrid streak into the weekend with best-yet Thursday, Friday and Saturday results. In total viewers, those segs attracted 28.39 million, 26.21 million and 21.76 million, respectively.

Saturday’s figures sent CBS’ rival gamer ”Winning Lines” (a prelim 6.99 million, 2.3/7 in adults 18-49) into a tailspin, down 21% from its OK premiere 18-49 average of the previous week. Friday’s ”Millionaire” had an even bigger impact on Fox’s ”Greed” (a prelim 6.88 million, 2.9/8 in adults 18-49), which tumbled 33% below its previous-week 18-49 results.

Thursday’s ”Millionaire” accrued ABC’s best regular-fare 18-49 rating in that slot in more than 17 years, since Oct. 14, 1982 (”Too Close for Comfort” and ”It Takes Two”).

Bloomberg and partner Lloyd Braun, co-chairman of the ABC Entertainment Television Group, were quick to point out that ABC’s revitalization isn’t limited to “Millionaire”-assisted nights.

“If you look at Saturday night, our (movie) has improved over 30% over the last year, and we now win Saturday nights (in adults 18-49),” Bloomberg noted. “We haven’t said that in 15 years, since ‘T.J. Hooker’ and ‘The Love Boat’ (were) on.”

ABC execs dismissed the notion that “Millionaire” was a drug that ultimately will leave the net strung out and in need of primetime rehab.

Still developing

It’s “vitamin B-12,” Bloomberg said, with Braun noting that ABC’s development for fall 2000 was as robust as past seasons. “We take absolutely nothing for granted, and we are very passionately developing new programs: dramas, comedies and alternative series,” Braun said.

“I actually think ‘Millionaire’ is going to afford us the opportunity to take more chances in our dramatic and comedy programming because of this promotional platform we’re going to have and the ability to bring in a very significant audience to sample a show,” he added.

In addition to highlighting previously reported projects, Braun said ABC is working with New Line and scribe Ron Shelton on a family drama and with Columbia TriStar Television and scribe Terrell Seltzer for another hourlong drama.

ABC has also greenlit a six-hour original Stephen King-Mark Carliner mini, “Rose Red” — King’s first project since his auto accident last year.

Alphabet execs are also committed to keeping “The Wonderful World of Disney” as a weekly two-hour franchise next season, despite rumblings that it might be scaled back.

“It will be a fixture on our weekly schedule,” said Braun.

As expected, ABC exec veep of movies and minis Susan Lyne will now have oversight of the program, reporting to Bloomberg, Braun and Walt Disney Studios chairman Peter Schneider (Daily Variety, Dec. 9, 1999).

Over at UPN, the mood was nearly as upbeat during Sunday’s confab.

UPN muscles up

Powered by still-sizzling Nielsens for WWF wrestling, as well as across-the-board ratings gains in its target demo of men 18-34 — the net is up 90% vs. this point last season with that group — UPN topper Dean Valentine said his weblet is firmly back on track.

“We delivered on the promises we made to advertisers last May,” he said, adding that the creative community in Hollywood now knows “what we stand for.”

UPN’s raison d’etre can now be summed up in one word: machismo. “If it has testosterone in it, we’ll air it,” Valentine said.

UPN Entertainment prexy Tom Nunan also defended the netlet’s move toward more reality-based programs, even as other webs move away from the form. The success of the WWF, he said, “shows how powerful this (reality) programming can be.”

Nunan ticked off several new projects in development, including “I Spike” (femme volleyball players who double as secret agents), “Hip Hop Bounty Hunters,” an Aaron Spelling produced hour called “The Hospital” and a John Sacret Young drama dubbed “Level 9.”

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