Television's latest triumvirate of program czars made their Hollywood debut Tuesday in what amounted to an official coming-out party for their newest member, ABC's Brandon Stoddard.
Stoddard appeared alongside fellow network entertainment presidents B. Donald (Bud) Grant of CBS and Brandon Tartikoff of NBC at the annual "Fall Preview" luncheon meeting of the Hollywood Radio & Television Society, which lured a record-breaking attendance to the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
Though he has been sitting in the programmer's seat since last November, Stoddard had yet to prove that he could hold his own against hip humorist Tartikoff or droll quipster Grant. With about 1,200 station executives, ad-agency officials and TV producers looking on, the function is something of a public rite of initiation for anyone who deems himself or herself worthy of telling America what it can view on the tube.
Stoddard passed the test. He successfully commingled his comedic blood with those of his programming brothers, wresting laughter with lines like "if you think we have perfect flow (on Thursday nights) between 'Our World' and 'Colby's' and '20/20' . . . you gotta take new drugs."
Stoddard's self-effacing observations embodied the new we-try-harder tack that ABC is taking while maneuvering out of the ratings cellar. He wondered aloud why the Hollywood Radio & Television Society even bothered putting his Thursday-night schedule up on the projection screen, since fighting "The Cosby Show" is such a losing battle.
But there was optimism mixed with the good-natured humor. "It will not be major, but we will have some movement," he said, referring to ABC's position in the prime-time ratings race.
All three executives essentially restated programming strategies they have been describing since last spring. "I feel like I've done this schedule more times than Anthony Quinn has done 'Zorba the Greek,' " Tartikoff said.
Some of those in attendance echoed that view. "They are so bored with this, it's stupid to have them do it," said one member.
The Hollywood Radio & Television Society membership, however, apparently deserves this particular meeting. At previous "Fall Preview" lunches, the programmers responded to questions pre-submitted anonymously by members. But society President Harris Katleman, who is also president of 20th Century Fox Television, acknowledged that "the questions are so insipid" and, in many cases, "character assassinations on the three presidents." Hence, the time was to be devoted to strategy descriptions, followed by a truncated Q-and-A session.
Those strategies can be summed up as follows: NBC is shuffling some old heavyweights, such as "Miami Vice," and sending some potential new ones, such as "Our House," into the ring in an attempt to beat back CBS' strength in key time periods. Examples are Fridays opposite "Dallas," Sundays opposite "60 Minutes" and "Murder, She Wrote" and Mondays in general.
CBS stands behind its many solid hits and sees its major weak spot as 8 to 9 p.m., where it has either moved existing series or added new shows every night except Sunday.
ABC is hanging on to shows with big potential--such as "MacGyver"--and creating some potent viewing blocks around comedies such as "Who's the Boss?" and "Perfect Strangers."
The much-ballyhooed "fourth" network, Fox Broadcasting Co., was at least mentioned--as the brunt of one of Tartikoff's better quips. Noting that FBC has gone after producers and writers who became successful with shows on NBC, he said: "I sort of look at them (FBC) as a young sailor who keeps sending candy to my wife."