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Counterprogramming the Super Bowl--a Game Plan

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A year ago, 29.5 million viewers eschewed Super Bowl XXVI’s halftime show in favor of a live episode of Fox’s sketch comedy series, “In Living Color,” in the most successful attempt to counterprogram what is annually television’s most-watched program.

Frito-Lay served as the exclusive sponsor for the “In Living Color” broadcast and was pleased with the results.

But on this Super Bowl Sunday, the ABC, CBS and Fox prime-time schedules will be nothing but repeats against NBC’s telecast of the NFL championship game between the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys.

On cable, Arts & Entertainment, American Movie Classics, Comedy Central, TBS, Turner Network Television and MTV have assembled themed marathons from their libraries.

“To say that you can put something on against the Super Bowl that will really draw a significant amount of viewers is an awfully daunting task,” said Steve Warner, CBS’ vice president of program planning. “It is probably harder than the Buffalo Bills coming back from being down 35-3 to the Houston Oilers (in a 41-38 victory in a Jan. 3 playoff game, the largest comeback in NFL history).

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“So what you try to do is keep consistency in your lineup so people who don’t want to watch the Super Bowl know what is going to be on CBS. You also try to program a little bit older and a little bit more female appeal.”

CBS’ “60 Minutes,” is following those tacks, presenting what it is billing as “Special Edition: Three Remarkable Women,” rerunning profiles (with updates) of Texas Gov. Ann Richards, a retarded couple raising children and a Miami nurse and her pediatrician husband who have adopted 15 children with Down’s Syndrome and related medical problems.

Three hours of programming starring Angela Lansbury follows with a “Murder, She Wrote,” rerun and “The Shell Seekers,” a 1989 “Hallmark Hall of Fame” presentation originally aired on ABC.

ABC will have reruns of “Life Goes On” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” followed by the 1987 movie, “The Witches of Eastwick.”

Fox will also have all reruns of its regularly scheduled Sunday lineup. It isn’t trying another ploy against the Super Bowl for several reasons. One is the presence of the self-anointed King of Pop, Michael Jackson, during the halftime show.

“Whether you like Michael Jackson or not, Michael Jackson is an event,” said Sandy Grushow, president of the Fox Entertainment Group. “He also, coincidentally--or perhaps not so coincidentally--happens to appeal to our young target audience. So with that, we really recognized there was no longer a need for Fox to step up and provide entertainment for that young audience.”

Fox then considered trying to entice the Super Bowl’s predominantly male audience to switch channels at halftime by carrying Riddick Bowe’s first defense of his heavyweight boxing championship. It decided against that, preferring to concentrate its resources on the launch of its Tuesday night schedule earlier this month.

On cable, marathons will run the gamut from four hours of MTV’s “House of Style” fashion show from 5:30-9:30 p.m. and a 24 1/2-hour marathon of big-band movies from 3 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. Monday on American Movie Classics to all 15 hours of the much-acclaimed miniseries “The Jewel in the Crown” from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. on A&E.;

TNT is presenting 21 hours of movie musicals from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. Monday.


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