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It’s Alphabet for an Eye as web-prod’n line blurs

A CBS-produced sitcom, “Caroline in the City,” is expected to nab the most coveted time period on NBC – 9:30 p.m. Thursday – when the network announces its fall primetime schedule.

That’s only the latest in a series of strange bedfellows that promises to be created by the fall primetime lineup, with the networks getting into production and the studios starting their own networks.

CapCities/ABC, which owns a stake in the NBC program “Newsradio” through its Brillstein – Grey Communications joint venture, has been the most eager network partner in these novel liaisons. In addition, the web has an interest in a series of movies that De Passe Entertainment will produce for Fox Broadcasting next season under the banner “Motown Presents” through its relationship with De Passe.

Still, “Caroline” is something of a milestone in that it represents the first series NBC has bought – or CB S has sold – directly from one of the rival in-house units. The deal lends some truth to the pronouncement by NBC West Coast prez Don Ohlmeyer that he would “buy a hit show from Attila the Hun.”

The series was developed through CBS Entertainment Prods, for the Eye network, with Judith Light initially in the starring role. When CBS passed, the project was taken to NBC and recast with “Back to the Future” costar Lea Thompson.

The move is also notable at a time when studio-network relations have been seemingly strained, at least on some fronts, by the entry of UPN and the WB into the primetime game, picking up a number of passed-on pilots from the established networks to facilitate their launch.

Juggling act

ABC, meanwhile, faces an intriguing juggling act between competing interests, with “Champs,” the first series generated from the Steven Spielberg-Jeffrey Katzenberg- David Geffen troika DreamWorks, among its hottest new-series candidates, along with a Brillstein-Grey pilot featuring “Bad Boys” costar Tea Leoni and a Meredith Baxter comedy from ABC Prods., its more conventional in-house unit.

In addition, ABC has a comedy from Wind Dancer Production Group and Disney – the tandem behind “Home Improvement” – who are lobbying heavily for the post “Improvement” slot. That show, “Buddies,” was said to have tickled network officials’ funny bones after recasting.

There’s also plenty of drama surrounding “Murder One,” the new Steven Bochco Prods, hour, which will now likely air Thursday, a less hospitable berth than the Wednesday slot the producer would like. Sources say $7-million anchor Diane Sawyer’s clout within the news division and Bochco’s new deal with CBS may combine to put the legal hour up against either “ER” or “Seinfeld.”

Since the relaxation of the finsyn moves, questions regarding such political motivations have occupied considerable time among studio sources, though ABC and the other webs have repeatedly stressed that the best show – not the biggest financial stake – determines what gets on their schedule.

NBC in particular has sought to declare its independence from being arm-twisted into scheduling moves, beginning with last year’s shift of “Frasier” and ‘ Wings” – prompting outrage at Paramount, which had wielded enormous influence while “Cheers” was still on the air.

Hold the WB

In that vein, tongues have wagged this year about the fact that NBC failed to order a single pilot from Warner Bros, even though the studio supplied the web with the breakout hits “ER” and “Friends” last fall. Sony-owned TriStar TV will also doubtless grumble loudly if NBC takes the expected step of moving “Mad About You” after the show had blossomed into a hit Thursdays.

NBC officials seem to have clearly relished the role of setting the pace in the primetime scheduling derby. The uncertainty surrounding NBC’s schedule going down to the wire, in fact, took some of the spotlight off ABC – and NBC officials were seeking to keep their lineup under wraps until the last minute, trying to give ABC the least time possible to react.

Inhouse plans

Fox Broadcasting is expected to turn more heavily to sister unit 20th Century Fox TV, which already supplies the weblet with such hits as “The X-Files” and “The Simpsons.” “Space,” a drama from two “X-Files” scribes, tops the short list of contenders to lead into that show on Friday, while a 20th pilot starring former “In Living Color” regular David Alan Grier could be sandwiched between “Martin” and “Living Single” in an expanded Thursday sitcom block.

CBS’s schedule remains sketchy, with most of the decisions on hold until the rival webs set their lineups. Sources do say that the Darren Star-produced soap “Central Park West” will likely fill an 8 p.m. slot – possibly Wednesday, which would put the show opposite the Star-created Fox Broadcasting soap, “Beverly Hills, 90210.”

The Eye network is also said to be considering the Andrew Dice Clay-Cathy Moriarty comedy “Bless This House” for a leadoff slot. The problem remains where CBS can launch comedies, with ABC and NBC already offering at least one successful comedy block between them Tuesday through Friday.

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