A ‘Port’ Hole in a Storm

Jul 7, 2003  •  Post A Comment

ABC’s cancellation of “Port Charles” may prove to be a blessing for Buena Vista’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
It also may prove to be a curse for some affiliates who have to decide how to fill that half-hour-which contractually belongs to the affiliates and not the networks-when there are not a lot of obvious solutions.
A number of key ABC owned television stations, including WABC-TV in New York and WPVI-TV in Philadelphia, are in the process of locking up long-term deals to add “Millionaire” to their schedules this fall. The owned-and-operated stations deals for “Millionaire” are said to be for a three-year term, though a Buena Vista spokesperson would not comment on the matter.
“Millionaire,” which aired on the CBS owned stations in New York and Philadelphia in its freshman season, had not been cleared this fall in those two important markets after the CBS stations opted not to renew it. “Millionaire’s” ratings steadily built throughout its freshman season.
`Inside’ Job
After “Millionaire’s” first season on the CBS O&Os, insiders said Buena Vista executives were flustered by Paramount staffers’s developing “Entertainment Tonight” spinoff “The Insider” for 2004. The show was targeting “Millionaire’s” access spot in key markets despite ratings growth after the game show replaced “Hollywood Squares” last fall in major markets. While Buena Vista was able to secure clearances for “Millionaire” in most top markets without the CBS stations, New York and Philadelphia were among the markets still outstanding as of this spring.
“Millionaire” can now boast a starting spot in the ultra-tight ABC daytime lineup and will air within an hour of “The View,” which also stars “Millionaire” host Meredith Viera.
In December 2001 ABC daytime executives were close to canceling the low-rated “Port Charles” and had even developed “The Last Resort,” a show to replace the soap. “Resort” wound up on cable network ABC Family. This time “Port Charles” survived another year and a half before finally receiving the axe in June, but there are no tailor-made series ready to take its place.
The hole in the daytime lineup has been something that syndicators normally would salivate at, particularly Buena Vista, which has not been able to use the ABC owned stations for new development the way other vertically integrated companies have done, due to the fact that ABC Daytime has been so solidly programmed with the likes of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which has been renewed through the 2008 season, signature soaps, “The View” and “Live With Regis and Kelly.”
Sources said ABC daytime honchos and BVTV executives were developing specifically for the “Port Charles” slot the past 6 months, but apparently nothing stood out. That forced the network to give the time back to the stations. For many ABC O&Os, the sale of “Millionaire” then timed out perfectly.
However, many ABC affiliates now feel stuck figuring out what to do with the time period on short notice.
“Frankly, this leaves us in a hole,” said one GM of an ABC-affiliated station. “Not all of us have `Port Charles’ next to midday news, and there isn’t a whole lot out there in syndication at this late-stage of the game that can help us. We can double run but that makes audience flow awkward without the right show to air.”
The ABCs of Options
Petry VP and director of programming Garnett Losak, said that a slew of scenarios are popping up across the country, including a number of ABC affiliates expanding their news coverage by a half-hour to fill the for “Port Charles”’ cancellation after Oct. 3.
“It’s a daytime time period, which is key, but as far as local ad sales are concerned, it’s probably not that valuable,” she said. “But it’s still significant, and what stations will do with the time period is all over the place right now.”
Without a ready-made series ready to tack into their lineups, other stations will look toward syndication in an attempt to fill the void. However, most syndicated series already have commitments for the 2003 season and playable half-hours are becoming harder to find in daytime.
Typically, newsmagazines, game shows and relationship strips rule the roost as half-hours flexible enough to be plugged into the lineup. While some of these shows may be able to add a market or two as a result of the soap cancellation, that still doesn’t solve the bigger picture for stations.
Some markets are expected to add an additional run of “Jeopardy,” while others, such as the Hearst-Argyle stations, are mulling an extra run of “Access Hollywood.” One intriguing possibility, according to analysts, could come from Twentieth Television, which starts slow rollouts of “Ambush Makeover” and “Classmates TV” on Monday. With both series in full production, one general manager noted that the timing could work out nicely for his affiliate, with the series likely to expand in the fall if initial tests are positive.

“I think those kinds of [reality] series would flow better with the soap crowd. Game shows create a different kind of atmosphere,” he said.
A Twentieth spokesperson would not comment on whether the syndicator would approach the affiliates with the series.
Soap Out of Alphabet Soup
“Port Charles,” the 6-year-old spinoff of “General Hospital,” was canceled June 27 after ratings upticks failed to materialize for the daytime series. ABC affiliates were not required to air the series but received compensation, including a 30-second incentive spot within “General Hospital” to do so if they aired it in daytime pattern.
The network does not plan to reclaim the time period and will take back the incentive spots and compensation as soon as “Port Charles” ends its run in October.
Overall, “Port Charles” is cleared in 92.6 percent of the country, with 66.5 percent of its runs in pattern and 82.2 percent in daytime.
Several years ago ABC returned time to the affiliates when the network canceled the Sunday edition of “Good Morning America.” The network then reserved, however an additional half-hour Monday through Friday, which has since been taken by freshman late-night show “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
Michele Greppi contributed to this report.