Times Staff Writer

KABC-TV's decision this week to stick with its local schedule instead of broadcasting a network drama for children about the problem of the homeless whipped up a whirlwind of protest and disappointment.

The station reported receiving more than 50 telephone complaints, the producer of the children's drama accused the station of being irresponsible and the manager of an actress who paid $900 to publicize her appearance in the film said ABC should reimburse her.

At issue was the decision by KABC-TV to maintain its regular Wednesday afternoon schedule by broadcasting its own "Tom Snyder" show at 3 p.m. instead of airing the network's "ABC Afterschool Special" that had been slotted there. The hourlong drama, "Are You My Mother?," was set in Los Angeles and told of a teen-age girl who discovered that the mother she thought was dead was actually living on the streets.

John Severino, general manager of the station, said he opted to go with "Tom Snyder" because Snyder already had been preempted once this week--for a special about the space-shuttle program Monday--and he didn't want to bump another episode of the five-week-old talk show because "that breaks the viewing habit" the station is trying to build. Snyder's guest Wednesday was a pet psychologist.

Severino said it was the first time the station had ever failed to run an "Afterschool Special" from its parent ABC network and, as far as he is concerned, it would be the last. He also said that, in retrospect, he would not have passed on the children's program if he had it to do over again.

KABC-TV did request permission from the network to air the program Sunday at 9 a.m., he said, but it was denied because an ABC policy prohibits stations from rescheduling the weekday specials to weekend spots, where other children's programming is available.

What particularly galled people connected with "Are You My Mother?" was that no one told them it was not going to be broadcast in Los Angeles. KABC-TV originally had listed it on the schedule and decided to go with "Tom Snyder" only last week, after it was too late for such publications as TV Guide and The Times' Sunday TV supplement to change the listing.

Producer Joanne Curley said she learned her program would not be shown here only when she read the newspaper Wednesday morning. Actress Belinda Balaski had taken out a full-page ad in that day's trade paper Variety to call attention to her performance.

Catholic Sister Carol Snyder, who helps run the Holy Cross Center in Los Angeles, which provides food and clothing to the poor and homeless, said officials there had contacted social service agencies and schools throughout the area to alert them to the program, only to have it fail to appear. "We were disappointed," she said Friday. "The homeless are a very big problem. We just think it's so important to keep it in the public eye."

Some ABC officials were just as surprised. One network executive in Los Angeles had invited guests to her office to watch the show.

A KABC-TV spokeswoman insisted that the station had informed the network's affiliate office in New York of the change and blamed a breakdown in communications at the network for the word not being passed to ABC officials in Los Angeles.

Producer Curley lashed out at Severino's explanation for the decision, branding it as capricious and saying it was detrimental both for the "Afterschool Specials" and for the thousands of homeless people in the Los Angeles area, whose plight the program sought to illuminate.

"I think the 'Afterschool Specials' are extremely important. To change this for a Tom Snyder show about a dog psychiatrist is appalling," she said in an interview. "I don't wish the station harm but I think they were irresponsible. It's not serving the community. . . . This was something that deserved to be seen here more than in any other market in the country."

Judy Thomas, who manages Balaski, said her client had spent more than $900 for the ad in Variety and additional money on other publicity about her role as the homeless, mentally ill mother. She said she considered it unconscionable that ABC hadn't informed Curley that the program wouldn't air in Los Angeles and said the network or the station ought to reimburse Balaski.

Word of the controversy even reached Newtonville, Mass., where a concerned Peggy Charren, president of Action for Children's Television, placed a call to Severino to register her organization's objection. She said Friday that Severino had assured her it wouldn't happen again. "That is the appropriate answer, so it sort of defused my anxiety," she said.

Severino told The Times that, with hindsight, he wishes the station had scheduled the space- shuttle special for either the week before or the week after "Are You My Mother?" Asked whether the station might have known the "Afterschool Special" was scheduled when it slotted the special, he conceded it was possible that "someone missed the boat" in making that determination.

As for broadcasting "Are You My Mother?," Severino said that the station will carry it when the network schedules it for a rerun. There was no word Friday on when that might be, but normally it would not be before next season at the earliest.

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