ABC WORKS TO WOO BACK TV PRODUCERS
Attention, television producers: If you have ability, credibility and a passionate belief in your show, ABC wants you.
That notice from ABC Broadcast Group chief Anthony D. Thomopoulos was posted a day after his programs chief, Lew Erlicht, confessed that ABC in past years tinkered too much with the creative process in some prime-time programs and vowed that the network would sin no more. Thomopoulos’ promise amply underlined the new policy of non-interference.
A bit unusual, all this public breast-beating and vowing. But it comes at a time when ABC, trying to avoid a repeat of last season’s third-place finish in prime-time ratings, is trying to woo both those who make entertainment programs and those who watch them.
During a Friday press conference, Erlicht denied that producers, either because of unhappy experiences with ABC or because ABC had wound up in third place last season, had made the network third on their list of places to pitch program ideas.
On Saturday, Thomopoulos gave the definite impression that he didn’t want ABC to be third, or lower, in the hearts of producers, emphasizing that ABC now has a policy of “granting producers greater freedom and greater non-interference in their (creative) judgments.”
Yes, he said, program-makers will make mistakes, “but what is critical is to impart the message to the (creative) community that if they have the passion, they have the belief, they have the credibility, they have the opportunity here at ABC to do it as they see best. . . .”
Because there are far more markets for creative efforts than in previous years, he added, “we have to attract the best people to television. And, hopefully, by doing what we (at ABC) are doing, we will attract them away from other mediums.”
He spoke at a meet-the-press session at the Century Plaza Hotel, where he shared the forum with three other ABC presidents--Mark Mandala of ABC Television; George E. Newi, the network’s chief, and James E. Duffy, the former president of the network who now heads ABC’s newly created office of communications.
That trio got in a word or two, particularly Duffy, who answered questions from out-of-town TV writers on ABC’s new $1-million “American Television and You” campaign, which aims at explaining how network television works and thus boosting respect for it.
But most of the queries were aimed at Thomopoulos, most of them following up on remarks made a day earlier by Erlicht, who became president of ABC Entertainment in 1983 when Thomopoulos was promoted from that post to the presidency of the ABC Broadcast Group.
Thomopoulos seemed to bridle a bit at a reporter’s suggestion that he was dissociating himself from the interference in program matters that had occurred at ABC in past years.
“That would be a cop-out, and I don’t cop out,” he firmly declared. “I take as much responsibility as anybody else for the mistakes.”
On other matters, Thomopoulos said:
--That he’s confident, as Erlicht also said, that next fall ABC will be “extremely competitive” with CBS and NBC (first and second, respectively, in last season’s prime-time ratings) and that “for the long term we will make a slow, steady improvement.”
--That he thought the impending $3.5-billion acquisition of ABC by Capital Cities Communications, when completed, would have little effect on the way the network now does business with program suppliers.
--That “I have no contract,” when asked if his contract with ABC includes a “golden parachute” that would ensure a well-paid exit for him should he be unhappy with ABC’s new owner. He didn’t elaborate.
ABC’s four-day press tour, which ended Sunday, was the last of the pre-season summer displays of new programs, stars and executives that the three networks and PBS have been offering visiting critics and writers for three weeks.