Seiyonara NBC- by Thomas Donald Clarke (January 25, 1998)

Jerry Seinfeld's interview last December 26, 1997, gave the elitists at 30 Rock more headaches than my most critical columns. Since Seinfeld accounts for over 20% of NBC's profits, ER and the NFL are up for contract renegotiations, and because I have not forgiven certain Channel 4 staffers for their role in the Syracuse Peacock fiasco last year, I offer the following advice to networks wanting to scalp the Peacock next season.

As we all know, ABC is in 3rd place. That "TV is Good" campaign didn't work too well. Since the most obvious solution (Disney selling ABC to a company that actually knows how to run a television network) is out of the question for now, ABC should take advantage of Disney's huge profit margin and bank account (ABC was the least profitable division of Disney last year). Disney could easily afford the $10 million Warner Brothers wants for each episode of ER. However, the real bidding to wrest ER from NBC will start at $15 million. ABC should retain Monday Night Football in the upcoming NFL package (the NFL will not let ABC keep MNF if ABC wins the NFC or AFC contracts). ABC's only strong night is Wednesday, with Ellen the weakest link in the night. ABC would be wise not to tamper too much with the Wednesday night lineup. Home Improvement is ABC's only dominant show on Tuesdays, but word is that NBC will move one of its Tuesday night comedies to Thursdays. Grace Under Fire and Hiller and Diller should be retired. ABC shouldn't antagonize a large Christian audience by moving Nothing Sacred to Sundays. And it is time for that TGIF crap to go. I'd also suggest ABC explore new affiliate options in Baltimore, Tampa, Denver, and St. Louis. (ABC hurt their national ratings by unnecessarily going to UHF in Tampa and St. Louis and by going to the lowest rated VHF stations in Baltimore and Denver.)

CBS is 2nd so far this season (and a strong candidate to hit #1 next season). With its reinvention as a pure media company, CBS can afford to shell out enough money to win back the NFL. CBS entertainment honcho Les Moonves has already vowed to win ER away from NBC; Les, your minimum price will be at least $15 million per episode, but expect closer to $20 mil if you want to seriously challenge a certain-to-overpay NBC (or ABC or Fox). CBS's Sunday and Thursday schedules should remain unchanged. CBS should make sure Della Reese gets that pay raise- Touched by an Angel is the highest rated weekly show not on NBC and Della's wings would be hard to replace. Cybill, Dr. Quinn, and Family Matters should retire. The Gregory Hines Show deserves a better night, maybe Mondays or Wednesdays after The Nanny. Leave Chicago Hope on Wednesdays at 10PM unless you actually get ER. CBS should also prepare to shatter the $1 billion mark (per 4 years) in getting back football. Their best bet should be the AFC package, which is cheaper than the AFC they lost to Fox 4 years ago and which provides the most Super Bowl broadcasts for some byzantine reason. If CBS outbids NBC for the AFC, the asking price will be over $1.5 billion (or almost double what NBC paid for the last AFC package). I'd also suggest CBS look for new affiliates in Atlanta, Louisville, Detroit, and San Francisco. (An O&O swap involving the CBS and Fox stations in SF and Detroit and the ABC affiliate in Atlanta is a remote possibility.)

Fox is up in the young demographics this year, but they are still 4th in total viewers. The sports deals Fox has clinched over the last 4 years have helped Fox attract new prime time viewers. Fox owner Rupert Murdoch has proved several times that he will shell out big bucks to improve the Fox empire. I doubt Fox will actually get ER, but Murdoch could drive the bidding well above $15 million per episode. Fox will probably retain the NFC package, although a football-hungry CBS will probably drive Fox's NFC bid to over $1.8 billion. Melrose Place and 90210 are getting too old for television. Instead of moving King of the Hill to Thursdays, Fox should move The Simpsons back to Thursdays at 8PM. Somehow I doubt Fox will bring back Married With Children. As far as strengthening the affiliate lineup, Fox had better look at its own struggling flagship station, Fox 5 here in New York, which barely beat UPN 9 in the last sweeps period, or Minneapolis or Charlotte, the only NFC markets in which Fox doesn't own a station or have a strong VHF affiliate. Fox has been aggressive in getting new (formerly Big 3) affiliates since 1994, but the results have been mixed. Fox strengthened themselves by switching from UHF to VHF in Atlanta, Tampa, Mobile, Honolulu, Green Bay, and Birmingham, but weakened themselves in Detroit and Evansville and held their own in Austin, Milwaukee, and Cleveland.

WB Network:
The WB network programs only 4 nights a week and is financially ill prepared to attempt getting any sports package. The new Dawson Creek show looks promising, and looks volatile to NBC's rebuilding plans, if moved to a new WB Thursday Night. But am I the only one surprised that WB isn't at least looking at acquiring ER (which is produced by WB sister corporate division Warner brothers Television)?

Currently the #5 network. UPN will probably fall in the ratings next season simply because UPN affiliate owner Sinclair Broadcasting has decided it no longer wants to continue business with UPN, and most Sinclair markets have no other outlets for UPN to move to. UPN co-owners Chris-Craft and Viacom are losing money on the network. However, UPN is the number one network among minority households.

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January 25, 1998/BC Excelsior