ABC Entertainment president Ted Harbert paused during his presentation to affiliates Thursday to make a policy statement about TV violence — namely, that the web will work to keep levels to “an absolute minimum” on series and pass on movie projects “where the primary selling point is violence.”
The two-hour preview of the fall schedule, Harbert’s first in his new capacity, was generally well-received.
It was also notable for some good-natured ribbing of ABC’s most publicly outraged star, Roseanne Arnold, while it raised hopes for a new breakthrough comedy hit from the Carsey-Werner Co., “Grace Under Fire,” which will follow “Home Improvement” come September.
Unlike many returning shows, “Roseanne” had no representatives on hand. Though Harbert smoked the peace pipe by saying its star was “totally dedicated” to continuing and even improving on the show’s success, jokes about the public flap came from several other quarters, including “Grace” star Brett Butler, who quipped, “I know what you’re thinking: A woman comedian in a sitcom from Carsey-Werner — trouble ahead.”
Later, Fred Savage, an ABC star the last six years on “The Wonder Years,” literally passed a torch to his little brother Ben (who will headline the “TGIF” sitcom “Boy Meets World”) in a brief ceremony.
The younger Savage brought down the house by saying, “You want me to take this to Roseanne’s house and do what?”
On the violence front, Harbert said ABC Entertainment would police itself, keeping levels to a minimum on shows that require depictions of violence at all, like Steven Bochco’s “NYPD Blue.” He added that ABC has already nixed movies that officials felt relied too heavily on violence.
All of television is under siege from Congress regarding the issue,and the networks in particular took heat for the high body count on display during the May sweeps, ABC most notably for its miniseries “Murder in the Heartland,” which didn’t air fully sponsored due to its content.
Seeking to answer in advance any affiliate concerns about “NYPD Blue,” which will carry a “parental discretion advised” warning, Harbert compared concerns about the show to those that attended the premiere of “Soap.”
The stronger-than-usual-for-prime time material in “NYPD” is “part of, a very small part of, a high-quality show that we are all proud of,” Harbert said, adding that he feels opposition to the show and advertiser reluctance can be overcome by the same formula that worked for “Soap”– namely, a combination of strong reviews and ratings.
ABC is “determined to recapture” Tuesday, Harbert said, after CBS won the night 18 out of 30tries during the ’92-93 season while ABC “experimented” with different programs at 9:30 and 10 p.m. NBC’s 8 o’clock comedies may steal some teens from ABC, but Harbert reminded affils that teens are the smallest segment of the broadcast audience; as a result, he predicted the Peacock’s audience will be incremental, and its effect on ABC “minimal.”
As for CBS’ new Wednesday sitcoms, taking on ABC from 8-9 p.m., Harbert noted that the Eye network hasn’t had comedy hits there since “The Beverly Hillbillies ,” and “history is not on their side.”
Harbert also took a jab at CBS in delineating ABC’s Thursday strategy, saying when it comes to counterprogramming with an older-skewing show “nobody does that better than ‘Matlock’ … and about a dozen shows on the CBS schedule.”
Turning to Saturday, Harbert acknowledged that ABC “won’t win any awards from the Audience Flow Assn.” but said the web felt it could target each hour individually.
Comic Paula Poundstone, whose ABC Prods. variety show is still being developed, quipped that ABC had put a compilation of her old clips together as “something to keep you off their goddamn backs.”
In his remarks, new exec VP of research, marketing and promotion Peter Chrisanthopoulos announced ABC will next week begin superimposing a semi-transparent ABC logo on the screen during programs — a strategy frequently used by cable networks to increase their identification, particularly within ratings-diary markets.
Echoing ABC-TV Network Group chief Robert Iger’s comment that the series themselves are the web’s brand names, Chrisanthopoulos said ABC will forgo a conventional fall campaign to focus on promoting shows –“our most valuable assets”– individually, while positioning the network as a “super-brand.”
ABC will use overall campaignsto tout each of the major sweeps and will begin airing five-second network IDs hourly, instead of only leading into late local newscasts. The web will also introduce a unified graphic look.
Although the average home now receives 38 channels, viewers watch only an average of nine of them each week, and Chrisanthopoulos maintained that it’s unlikely that figure will expand beyond 15 channels, even with the explosion of new cable services.
Harbert also went out of his way to credit ABC exec VP of prime time Stu Bloomberg with the network’s new product, responding to affiliate exec VP George Newi’s joke about whether development could be attributed to Harbert or predecessor Iger by saying, “Make no mistake: (the new shows) are the product of Bloomberg development.”
As for one of the more eagerly anticipated new series, “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” the web noted that the show’s 8 p.m. Sunday time period offers the highest concentration of young adults anywhere on TV, about 20% higher than the average age 18-49 tune-in. NBC is also aggressively chasing that demo in the slot with “seaQuest DSV.”
ABC also announced several high-profile theatricals for next season, among them “Dances With Wolves,””Terminator 2: Judgment Day,””GoodFellas,””City Slickers,””Three Men and a Little Lady” and “Gremlins 2: The New Batch.”