Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, for example, auctioned its most valuable real estate -- the Wednesday 9:30 PM ET slot following "The Drew Carey Show" -- to a producer, Greenblatt Janollari Studio. The producer granted ABC a 10% stake in its show ("Oh Grow Up") and the rights to four network airings of each episode instead of the usual two. Two other producers -- Warner Bros. Television ("The Norm Show)" and Twentieth Century Fox Television ("Then Came You") refused ABC's demands and lost out in the deal-making.
It's not in marketers' interest to have some series' episodes rerun four times on the network. That encourages viewers to hit another button on the remote control. More importantly, it's increasingly clear the broadcast networks are more interested in financial deals than putting the best shows they can find on the air. Consider "Ally," a new half-hour Tuesday night sitcom to debut on Fox this fall.
Produced by Fox, "Ally" will consist, in part, of outtakes of Fox's hourlong "Ally McBeal," seen on Monday nights. The half-hour show will explore certain plot lines in more detail than were included in the hour program the evening before. The "deal" behind "Ally"? Fox found few bidders for its hourlong "Ally McBeal" in the syndication market and is giving precious network time to the "Ally" half-hour to create a show that will sell when syndicated.
Broadcast network economics are not easy today. But if this trend continues, and financial packages rather than program quality determine what gets on the schedule, more network viewers may tune out. It leads to a wrong-headed vicious cycle, whose real victims are marketers that find it increasingly difficult -- and expensive -- to reach the audience they need.
In years past, with programs such as "General Electric Theater" and "Philco Television Playhouse," marketers showed great programming can draw great audiences. Today, the "Hallmark Hall of Fame" productions are critical and popular successes. Compelling TV is not a commodity where content takes a back seat to whoever offers the best financial deal. How ironic it may take the