Eye, Alphabet opt for hi-def skeins

CBS offers all scripted series in format; ABC offers primetime, theatrical pix

The nets have moved one step closer this fall to fully embracing high definition TV.

CBS has pacted with Panasonic and Zenith to underwrite the Eye’s third season of high definition telecasts.

For the first time, CBS will offer all of its scripted entertainment series in the HD digital format — along with a handful of Sunday night movies and daytime drama “The Young and the Restless.”

Net will also continue to offer much of its sports programming in high def. Including the net’s new primetime commitment, that will add up to nearly 24 hours of HD programming per week this fall.

For the past two years, CBS has broadcast the majority of its primetime sked in HD.

“CBS is proud to be the first network to broadcast its full slate of primetime comedies and dramas in high definition,” CBS Television CEO Leslie Moonves said.

ABC — which has experimented with the HD digital format in the past — announced Friday it will broadcast all of its primetime comedy and drama series, as well as theatrical movies, in HDTV for the 2001-02 TV season.

That means about 50% of the net’s primetime sked will be available in high def this fall, starting with the one-hour season premiere of “Dharma & Greg” on Sept. 18.

Preston Davis, president of broadcast operations and engineering at the Alphabet web, said the net hopes to create a critical mass with consumers by advancing the HDTV cause.

“We’re at a point where the availability of HDTV sets and a reasonable amount of content may have converged,” Davis said. “This is the start of everyone hopefully moving in a new direction with a substantial amount of programming in HD.”

“Monday Night Football” won’t be making a return to high def, however. ABC got its feet wet in the 1999-2000 season by producing all of its “MNF” telecasts in high definition. Davis said the cost to continue that practice is prohibitive for now.

“The logistics of mounting two separate and distinct productions were difficult,” Davis said.

Meanwhile, the only series NBC is broadcasting in HD is “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” In the past, the Peacock net has broadcast various sports events, specials and theatricals in the HD format. Fox broadcasts much of its schedule in a widescreen, digital format, but not in high definition.

NBC is seeking partners to help shoulder the cost of more HD offerings, while ABC is shifting to the format without sponsors.

Neither ABC nor CBS plans to broadcast reality series or newsmags in HDTV.

ABC and CBS also broadcast in competing HDTV formats: ABC prefers 720 progressive scan, while the Eye opts for 1080 interlace.

HDTV has been slow to take off, in part because of the glacial purchase rate for high definition TV sets. The FCC has mandated that by 2006, broadcasters must convert entirely to digital.

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