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Tuned In: ABC says wait and see on new lineup

Wednesday, July 28, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif -- Incoming!

Despite critical acclaim in the past TV season, ABC faced a bombardment of questions from TV critics, and many times their only answer was "wait and see."

?Why is the network premiering its most heralded new show, "Once and Again" from the producers of "thirtysomething," in the "NYPD Blue" time slot, then yanking it off in late October, holding it for the 10 p.m. Monday slot after "Monday Night Football" ends in January, and losing any momentum established by the premiere?

?Why so closely ally Disney's television production arm with the network? Will Disney ever produce shows for rival networks again?

?And perhaps most importantly to TV critics: Why was there no orange juice served with breakfast?

The ever-expanding phalanx of executives -- ABC Entertainment president Jamie Tarses, ABC Entertainment Television Group co-chairmen Stu Bloomberg and Lloyd Braun and ABC Television president Patricia Fili-Krushel -- tried to answer the questions.

Tarses said the unusual scheduling of "Once and Again" will give the show a grand launch at the beginning of the season and pointed to the success of moving "The Practice" from Saturday to Monday after football in its second season.

"Taking ["Once and Again"] off the air is very risky, but I'm hoping there will be success and we will be able to keep the idea of the show alive throughout the time the show is off the air," Tarses said. "We'll do everything in our power to make sure we don't diminish what we're able to accomplish at the beginning of the season."

How ABC plans to accomplish that is unclear, although Tarses said many scenarios are under consideration, including a possible holiday airing.

Another strike against the show is its title, which is too similar to CBS's "Six Million Dollar Man" revamp, "Now and Again." CBS's Les Moonves told "Now and Again's" creator to stick with his title and force ABC to change its show. ABC executives said they have no plans to change the title of "Once and Again."

Basically, they're playing a game of chicken and both shows will likely suffer.

But a different show's title is changing: "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place" has become "Two Guys and a Girl" and the pizza place is out of the picture.

"That's a misconception that it's undergoing a major overhaul," Tarses said. "We've dropped the pizza place simply because there's a feeling these characters have moved beyond part-time jobs delivering pizza. That's really all that's changed."

"We hope people won't stop watching just because there's no pizza place," Bloomberg said, garnering laughs from the press.

Fili-Krushel said the merger of the ABC network and Disney's Buena Vista Television (creating what is now essentially an in-house production unit) was done for economic reasons and so ABC could control more of its own programming and streamline development. Bloomberg said the move would not lead to a schedule comprised solely of ABC-owned programs.

"The proof will be in what you see at the end of the season," Bloomberg said. "You will not see a schedule that is 100 percent Disney."

Bloomberg said shows that aren't right for ABC will still be developed -- without the input of ABC network executives -- and then shopped to other networks.

This should matter to viewers because there's concern with ABC taking control of the Disney production arm there could be a watering down of the types of programs on TV, that writers who have deals with Disney may not be able to get programs on the air unless they fit the ABC mold.

Would "Felicity," a show produced by Disney but clearly not a fit for ABC, have been sold to The WB under the new configuration? Likewise, will ABC buy any programs from suppliers other than its in-house entity?

On the ever-present issue of diversity, ABC executives acknowledged they need to do a better job and have added minority characters to "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," "Wasteland," "Once and Again" and the mid-season shows "Bellevue" and "Talk to Me." They said there are no minorities in the Brooklyn-set sitcom, "Oh Grow Up," in part because that would not reflect the creator's experience.

"I know they were very open in the casting process, but on the other hand, this show is very autobiographical and the writer was recounting his experience when he lived with three friends in a brownstone in Brooklyn, and this definitely was more reflective of the people he lived with," Tarses said. "That's not an excuse for it, but we also want to be respectful and defer to the creative auspices that develop the shows."

PRIME-TIME LIVE: A November sweeps episode of "The Drew Carey Show" will be performed live three times, once for each time zone. It will use a partially unscripted storyline that features the cast playing an improvisational game.

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