ABC Entertainment President Brandon Stoddard, speaking to TV critics here Saturday, defended the early performance of ABC's new fall programs and blasted NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff for charging that some of those new shows, the so-called dramedies, are an unsuccessful hybrid of comedy and drama.
Earlier in the week, Tartikoff called the dramedy--this season's laugh-trackless drama-comedy blends--"a camel, a horse by committee." That list includes ABC's "Hooperman" with John Ritter and "The 'Slap' Maxwell Story" with Dabney Coleman.
In his news conference at the Century Plaza, Stoddard said, "I feel differently than he does (about dramedies). I'm not as quick to say, 'Oh, this isn't working.' 'Hooperman' is working.
"I think it (the dramedy form) is terrific. I think they're not as easy to watch (as traditional sitcoms). You have to figure out how to watch these shows. I think you had to learn how to watch 'Hill Street Blues.' I think it's too early to push the button and say these shows aren't funny enough."
Stoddard noted that ABC is the only network to show improvement in the performance of new series (including the dramedies) this season over last season. "We've got to be reasonably successful on new shows. It's got to be the key."
Stoddard said that ABC's performance in the new people-meter ratings and new mid-season programming plans, such as moving the low-rated "The Dolly Show" to Saturday nights, indicate that the network is on the road to recovery out of third place.
Stoddard added that, along with several previously announced mid-season replacements, ABC will introduce as many as eight new series on a trial basis after the 1988 Winter Olympics. The network plans to run "short orders," or six episodes of each rather than the customary 12 and to temporarily pull a permanent show for the trial run.
After the Olympics, "it will be possible to make some programming moves that could be looked on as aggressive, challenging moves," Stoddard said. "It's the only thing that keeps me smiling these days."
Stoddard said he was also encouraged by the new people-meter rating system, which has been kinder to ABC than CBS. Although the new technology showed all three networks to be off slightly in the ratings this fall, CBS was hardest hit. While admitting that "that's hardly a reason for dancing in the streets," Stoddard said it shows that ABC has "closed the gap slightly" on CBS.
The ABC entertainment chief said he had hopes that moving Dolly Parton to Saturday nights in January will bolster the show's rating. In its previous Sunday time slot "Dolly" sank to 49th place in recent weeks after premiering strongly. Stoddard said that the variety show couldn't compete with movies and sports on the other networks.
And the network trotted out the new, trimmed-down, 100-pound Parton herself to say that the new Saturday-night "Dolly" will be a sure-fire success.
Parton said the Saturday-night slot was better for kids and her heartland audience, many of whom attend church on Sunday nights. She added that the show had finally achieved the right mix of country and urban appeal. She said that she was rejecting the advice of experts to rely on the instincts that "made me a star."
"When it's what I want it to be, I think it will be what the people want it to be," she said.