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When Gay Means Loss of Revenue : Television: ABC lost $500,000 in advertising when homosexual characters appeared in last Tuesday’s episode of ‘thirtysomething.’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ABC lost more than $500,000 as a result of advertisers pulling out from “thirtysomething” last Tuesday because the episode included two sporadically recurring gay characters, Robert A. Iger, president of ABC Entertainment, said Friday.

Despite the loss of revenue--the second financial hit ABC has suffered because of the show’s portrayal of the relationship between the two men--Iger said that the “thirtysomething” producers are still free to depict the lives of these characters as they see fit.

In Tuesday’s episode, the two were guests at a New Year’s Eve party attended by nearly all of the show’s regular characters. Their previous one-night stand--the focus of an episode last season that wound up costing ABC more than $1 million in lost ad revenue--was briefly discussed during the course of the party and the pair, who had not seen each other in nearly a year, reconciled with a midnight kiss on the cheek. Theirs was one of a handful of stories that played out during the party.

“I do not feel comfortable with the advertisers’ decision to pull out of shows, but that’s the advertisers’ right,” Iger said. “I’m not going to say they don’t have that right. I just think it’s a poor choice.”

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NBC also suffered a similar financial loss Tuesday when it aired a “Lifestories” episode that told the story of a gay television reporter and his battle against AIDS.

“I am grateful that ABC was willing to air the program at a loss,” said Edward Zwick, co-creator and co-executive producer of “thirtysomething.”

“And I am appalled at the notion that advertisers would employ these screening services to recommend whether a program is offensive or appropriate,” he said, referring to companies employed to look at upcoming TV programs and advise their clients as to the suitability of having commercials appear in them.

Zwick confirmed that after the advertiser pullout last season, ABC assured him and fellow executive producer Marshall Herskovitz that the network would fully support any future exploration of the gay characters’ lives. Tuesday’s show was the first of this season that included them, Zwick said, but only because one of the actors, David Marshall Grant, had been in Thailand making a movie.

Zwick insisted that “thirtysomething” would continue to use and develop these characters and their relationship in coming episodes.

One reason that advertisers have been withdrawing from such shows is that the Rev. Donald Wildmon, the leading crusader against corporations that sponsor programs he finds offensive, has threatened to boycott companies that advertise on shows that portray the gay lifestyle as “normal and acceptable.”

Iger said that it would be counterproductive for any of the networks to knuckle under to the pressure of sponsor defections by imposing creative guidelines that might limit or preclude the inclusion of such sensitive subjects as homosexuality, abortion and teen-age drinking.

ABC neither encourages nor discourages the inclusion of such subject matter in its shows, he said, leaving such creative decisions to the producers of the programs.

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One of the ways to balance his fiscal responsibility to the network and its parent company, Capital Cities/ABC Inc., with what he calls his “social and creative responsibilities,” Iger said, is to air such episodes once and then decide not to rerun it. To avoid a second financial hit, Iger chose not to rerun last season’s episode that featured the two men talking in bed after having sex.


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