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Web to web: Can’t we get along?

Upfront presentations bring issue to fore

NEW YORK – OK, so the networks agree the enemy is cable. Then why are they battling each other?

Never was this question more pertinent than during the recent upfront presentations, where NBC West Coast programming chief Don Ohlmeyer identified the networks’ problem as too much intra-category infighting and not enough cable bashing.

“There’s a lot of negativity flowing,” he said, “and we have only ourselves to blame.”

Actually, Ohlmeyer had every reason to direct most of his blame at ABC, which, on the very morning of his remarks, ran a full-page ad under the banner: “What a difference a day makes.”

The ad, which appeared in the New York Times, conjured up ratings for the Big Four if all of them were to go without the night that produced “Must See TV.”

Not surprisingly, the exercise gave the Alphabet network the ratings lead and some copywriter the idea for a tag line that asked: “Do you really want to base your buying decisions for a whole week on one night — a night without ‘Seinfeld’?”

Ave Butensky, who as president of the Television Bureau of Advertising finds himself playing network mediator almost as much as TV’s major domo, all but sighed: “I’ve told them to work together many times, but they get caught up in the passion of the moment. Somebody’ll have a good idea, then somebody else will say ‘Great, let’s do it,’ even if it means trampling their own medium.”

That pretty much describes what must have happened at NBC, which last week responded to ABC’s salvo with a full-page ad of its own.

“ABC wants you to ignore Thursday,” began the rebuttal from the network of Ohlmeyer the peacemaker. “Great! Let’s talk about Saturday.”

The ad’s body copy was deliciously self-serving even if it were, in Butensky’s estimation, beside the point.

“Our focus should be on holding the hand of advertisers contemplating coming onto TV and making that decision easier,” said the TvB chief. “All this other stuff does is confuse them.”