NEW YORK — Archie Purvis went to the National Assn. of Television Program Executives convention in New Orleans last week to sell ABC programs. Among his wares: the controversial 14 1/2-hour miniseries "Amerika."
He returned, he said, with orders for the show from TV executives in Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and the Philippines. The show had been sold in Italy and Argentina before the convention.
In addition, "serious negotiations" are under way with television officials in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Japan for the broadcast rights to "Amerika," he said.
And even the Soviet Union--which previously had assailed the program, sight unseen--earlier this month expressed interest in seeing it and possibly buying it when its final version is ready, said Purvis, senior vice president of ABC Distribution Co., the sales arm of ABC Video Enterprises.
All this foreign activity is occurring before the miniseries, which depicts life in the United States following a bloodless takeover by the Soviet Union, even has begun its seven-night run on ABC, which is scheduled to begin Feb. 15.
ABC's $35-million production won't be going quietly into those good nights.
In addition to angering the Soviets, "Amerika" has drawn fire from the United Nations, the left, the right, three former U.S. secretaries of state, and--perhaps worst of all--even has been called boring by some who've seen a rough cut of its two-hour opening chapter.
The miniseries also drew barbed queries in Los Angeles earlier this month from a gaggle of TV critics from around the nation attending their semi-annual press tour to preview network programming.
During ABC's Century City press conference after a preview of the show, the critics peppered questions at "Amerika" producer/director/writer Donald Wrye, co-stars Kris Kristofferson and Wendy Hughes, and others, essentially questioning the premise of the series.
There are those who might call all this uproar bad publicity. But controversy has been known to help a show. And the turmoil now attending "Amerika" hasn't hurt the effort to sell it in foreign markets, Purvis confirmed.
"Yes, the publicity has helped it," he said. "We (at ABC) certainly have not relished or basked in that negative publicity. But from a purely sales standpoint, it (the uproar) has drawn a lot of attention to our (program) titles and to 'Amerika' in particular."
The most curious part of the attention is that shown by Soviet broadcasters. That interest occurred about a week after Pravda, the Soviet Communist Party newspaper, said this about the miniseries:
"One cannot help thinking that the television serial 'Amerika,' though fiction, is a deliberate act of psychological warfare intended to scare the Americans and to make them believe 'the Russians are coming' so as to whip up hatred for the Soviet people and the Soviet Union."
Yet Soviet broadcasters asked ABC to see the show when it was ready, and it was not just a screening request.
"They wanted to screen it for purchasing consideration," Purvis said. He was asked why he thought they did so, given Pravda's complaint and attacks on "Amerika" and films such as "Rambo" by Soviet officials last fall.
"There's only one reason," he said. "They're curious about the program. And if it has merit, and fits their requirements, they would be interested in purchasing it.'
The query could signal a second small ray of TV light in the Cold War. A few days earlier, the Soviets purchased broadcast rights for ABC's once-controversial "The Day After," the 1983 TV movie that depicts the aftermath of a nuclear war between their country and the United States.
Theatrical and TV rights to that high-rated film subsequently were sold in 85 nations. But only Poland of the Soviet bloc countries bought and broadcast it.
Poland, which some Washington diplomatic sources say traditionally has had the most lively TV programming in Eastern Europe, has not yet expressed interest in "Amerika," Purvis said.
Neither has any other Soviet bloc country, he added. But "remember, our job is not to sit back and wait for inquiries," he said. "When we're ready to go, we will solicit interest."
On the domestic front, ABC reported Tuesday that with the premiere of "Amerika" only two weeks away, 90% of its commercial time has been sold, with fees averaging $175,000 for a 30-seconds ad.
ABC spokesman Jeff Tolvin said that prospects are "fairly good" that the show will be sold out nationally by opening night.
Chrysler Corp. and General Foods are among the major advertisers.
ABC sources said that the network anticipates that the miniseries will average a 35% to 40% share of the national audience, but some officials outside the company were skeptical of that prediction.
"I think it's got a big uphill climb," said David Poltrak, CBS' vice president for audience research, noting that neither his network nor first-place NBC "will roll over and play dead" during the run of "Amerika."