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ABC MEET THRILLS AFFILS

ABC’s affiliates meeting June 7-8 in Los Angeles proved to be a rather congenial affair – not surprising given the network’s first-place finish last season and the fattened compensation deals that have been struck since the New World-Fox deal initiated the affiliate musical chairs of a year ago.

ABC TV Network Group prez David Westin, making his first appearance to the affiliate body in that capacity, promised that ABC – pressed by NBC for primetime dominance – wouldn’t allow complacency to dull its efforts. The web also spent the two days hammering home the notion of network-affiliate partnership, from plans to create a Sunday-morning block around local and national programming to the need for teamwork in marketing the web’s primetime shows.

Aside from that, the atmosphere was breezy from the opening moments – when ABC News brought out Oklahoma City rescue workers for a salute – to jazz-pop singer George Benson’s closing-night gala performance. (Characteristic of the high stakes in the affil-schmoozing game, CBS tapped singer Tony Bennett for its finale a week earlier.)

ABC Entertainment prexy Ted Harbert, going over the web’s primetime schedule, admitted to having mixed feelings about going with more adult programming from 8-9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, where ABC has traditionally aired family comedies like “Full House.”

ABC nevertheless defended the practice, with exec VP of research, marketing & promotion Peter Chrisanthopoulos citing a study finding that 70% of households now have more than one TV set and that only about 20% of adults 18-49 – the most sought-after demographic – regularly watch TV with children or teens. Chrisanthopoulos referred to it as “fragmentation of the family viewing experience,” altering the long-held assumption that kids bring adults to the set.

The network may nevertheless soften the language in some of its pilots, which weren’t necessarily developed with that earlier hour in mind.

Harbert also cited concern over a sameness to the new fall shows, with “‘Seinfeld’ simulators and ‘Friends’ photocopies,” as multiple networks pursue the same audience “with strikingly similar programs.” The challenge, he said, will be marketing shows distinctively.

DreamWorks principals Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg also brought their public-relations act to the meeting, telling the group that the fledgling joint venture with the web may explore primetime drama because of the glut of sitcoms scheduled for the fall. Spielberg also cited a desire to do programs for ABC in other dayparts, with animation sources expecting the company to become a major supplier to ABC’s Saturday-morning lineup.

CapCities/ABC president-chief operating officer Robert Iger, who orchestrated the DreamWorks and Brillstein-Grey production co-ventures, reiterated ABC’s commitment to own more programming, acquire more TV stations and to tap into all avenues of distribution.

Westin said ABC hopes to create a Sunday morning block around “Good Morning America,” “This Week With David Brinkley” and local programming, with specifics to be determined at a later date.

Separately, Cox Broadcasting exec VP Andrew S. Fisher has been elected chairman of the ABC affiliates board, succeeding John Garwood.

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