ABC said it is trying to shield advertisers on the shows from pressures such as the threatened boycott by a Catholic group that led to as many as six sponsors pulling out of "Nothing Sacred" last week.
But Advertising Information Services-used by at least two dozen ad agencies and their clients to screen TV shows and get advance information on the commercials appearing in those shows-is pressuring ABC to reverse its decision not to provide commercial information. ABC is allowing AIS to screen the shows in advance.
A UNILATERAL DECISION'
AIS sent a letter Sept. 19 to agencies stating, "We are contacting you about a recent unilateral decision made by Marv Goldsmith at ABC to cut out program services for two shows. . . . Unless ABC is persuaded otherwise, AIS will no longer be able to check for correctness of commercial as well as position placement and product conflicts." The letter was signed by AIS President Lorraine Antoniello and VP Kevin Eichler.
While not naming names, the letter said some of AIS' agency board members have expressed a "general concern for the demise of services for these two shows as well as the continual refusal of ABC to let us screen 'NYPD Blue' for your clients." Neither Ms. Antoniello nor Mr. Eichler could be reached for comment last week.
Mr. Goldsmith, ABC's president of sales and marketing, confirmed the network policy, but said it is designed to shield advertisers, not to keep information away from them.
"There is some sensitivity to those shows and we're protecting the advertisers," Mr. Goldsmith said. "We are not making the client list available before the shows air. When they air, everyone can see who the advertisers are."
As for "NYPD Blue," Mr. Goldsmith said, "We have screenings for clients that are in the show."
"NYPD Blue," an acclaimed series that has broken sex, violence and language barriers on broadcast TV, remains controversial; producers of the show are said to be considering airing a scene in an upcoming episode that would shatter another network TV taboo-the showing of female nipples.
"NYPD Blue," "Ellen" and "Nothing Sacred" have been threatened with advertiser boycotts by special-interest groups such as the American Family Association and Catholic League. "Ellen" drew heavy fire last year when the sitcom's lead character revealed she was gay.
"Nothing Sacred," which made its debut Sept. 18, is about a priest who questions church doctrine on such issues as abortion. The show has been a critical success, but ratings so far have been mediocre. The second episode, aired Sept. 25, scored a 4.4 rating with a 7 share.
The Catholic League claimed success last week when American Isuzu Motors and Weight Watchers International pulled out of "Nothing Sacred" after running ads in the first episode. Both companies said they heard consumer complaints after appearing in the show, although a spokesman for Isuzu said the automaker had made no commitments to buy more than one episode of the show anyway.
Red Lobster also confirmed late last week that it had pulled out of the show, and several other advertisers were said to have bailed. Those included Kmart Corp., Benckiser Consumer Products USA and Du Pont Co.
"I think it's extremely unfortunate that [the show's opponents] have been so ready to condemn," said Richard Kramer, executive producer of "Nothing Sacred." "It's unfortunate for both them and for the advertisers because if they would just give it a chance, they would see that every point they find offensive is dealt with."
Reaction to ABC's decision to hold back information from AIS was mixed. "We're considering not buying all three shows until ABC changes its mind," said one