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Need Patience To Leave No. 3 Spot, Abc Exec Says

June 24, 1986|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

Despite ABC's effort to offer more quality prime-time series, the network's new fall schedule won't get ABC out of third place next season, says its Entertainment President Brandon Stoddard.

But that "isn't what we're trying to do," he noted. He said that the idea is to be realistic in setting goals and then trying to achieve them each year.

He also said that it isn't a certainty that David Hartman, the folksy host of ABC's "Good Morning America" since November, 1975, will stay with the program, which earlier this year was overtaken as No. 1 in ratings by NBC's resurgent "Today Show."

His comment on Hartman came Sunday when he disclosed to visiting TV writers that research consultant Frank Magid--who two years ago recommended to NBC ways to boost ratings of its "Today" show--will soon do that for "Good Morning America."

Stoddard said that he will look at a "major study" by Magid due by July 3, but "I don't think we're going to make overwhelming or revolutionary changes" on the program, which for a number of years was first in the network morning-show ratings race.

Stoddard reportedly has been pressed by Capital Cities Communications, the cost-conscious new owners of ABC, to change terms of the contract under which Hartman has been working. The change might conceiveably involve a salary cut. The former actor currently is paid more than $1 million annually.

When asked if one could assume that Hartman will continue to host the two-hour show, Stoddard replied that "you can't assume anything because we are in negotiations (on a new contract) with David, and who knows where that's going to go?"

In discussing the possibility of ABC avoiding another third-place season in prime time, Stoddard sounded somewhat like NBC Board Chairman Grant Tinker several years ago when NBC, now first in prime-time ratings, was trying to escape the Nielsen cellar.

Back then, Tinker urged patience, patience, patience.

Stoddard said patience would be ABC's approach, although ABC--third in prime-time ratings for two successive seasons--would try to come closer to second-place CBS and be, as he jokingly put it, "the No. 1 third-place network."

A respected ABC movie and miniseries executive prior to his appointment last November as the network's programming chief, Stoddard said the plan is to try to make ratings gains and improve the quality of programs at the same time.

ABC has nine new series on tap for next fall.

Some progress already has been made, he told the visiting scribes, but "we have a long, long haul in front of us, and the way I think to go about that is to establish some realistic goals that you can reach, and try to go after that year by year."

On other matters, Stoddard said:

--That he doesn't know if miniseries are on the wane, "but I'd like them to be more special. . . . I think there have been too many of them, and I think that's wrong."

--That ABC will examine next season whether its Saturday-morning schedule of animated series for children should offer different types of programs. The audience has changed, he said, and now consists of very young children early in the morning and young adults later on, and "that is a big change in the Saturday morning (viewer) profile."

--That he didn't know if the effort of Fox Broadcasting Co. to establish a fourth commercial network is financially feasible when network revenues are down, program costs up and "when there probably is a two-network economy as it (now) stands."

His press powwow at the Century Plaza marked the end of two weeks of sessions with visiting TV critics that were hosted by the three networks and PBS. The meetings are a biannual event at which new shows are screened and stars, producers and executives interviewed by the visitors.

During ABC's turn, the Television Critics Assn. grumbled that John B. Sias, the new, rarely interviewed head of the ABC network division, wasn't available to be interviewed by its members. It passed a resolution calling his absence "deplorable."

Sias subsequently sent his regrets, citing the press of business in New York.

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