ABC gives Moore-Harper sitcom 13-seg order

ABC has given a firm 13-episode order to the new 20th Century Fox comedy with ’70s sitcom pals Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper.

CBS had expressed some early interest, but the Eye web was unwilling to make a big commitment to the show sight-unseen. Then early last week, ABC emerged as the lead contender and had been expected to make a deal (Daily Variety, Nov. 10).

The 13-episode order is backed up by a large $750,000-per-episode penalty if the show doesn’t get on the air, according to one source familiar with the deal. The new ABC sitcom, for fall 1998, not only reunites Moore and Harper, but it will reprise their sitcom roles as Mary Richards and Rhoda Morganstern from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

No writer is attached to the project yet, and 20th is actually still negotiating its deals with Moore and Harper, but the studio appears to be on solid ground because it owns the rights to the Richards and Morganstern characters through its purchase of MTM Entertainment.

ABC and 20th are tinkering with a premise that features characters Mary and Rhoda as widows who have lost touch with each other over the years, and then stumble back together by chance. Each will have a 20-something daughter named after the other, meaning Mary’s daughter is named Rhoda and vice versa. The sitcom is expected to be shot in New York City.

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