Tortorici noted that children can be another prime target for counterprogramming; that's what CBS has in mind for its Wednesday airing of "The Wizard of Oz" from 8 to 10 p.m., which will overlap the first hour of the conclusion of NBC's "Noble House" as well as an hour of ABC's Olympics.
ABC's Harbert pointed out that playing the squares means finding out the other teams' game plans as early as possible. At each network, at least one person is assigned to spy on the other guys, feeding in daily information on the other networks' plans gleaned from a grapevine of information from advertisers, sales representatives and daily bundles of news releases sent out to the press.
"The information is confidential, but it's not like getting into the Pentagon," said Wang.
John Barber, ABC's vice president of current programs, said information leaks out because the network sales departments need lead time to sell the shows.
"Once a sales department knows what the programming department is doing, it's out on the streets," he said. "It's sort of an unspoken but recognized and acknowledged way of finding out what the other guys are doing."
And although Harbert admitted that "we boys play games where we try to slip things in on the other guy," he said that it only pays to keep programming plans a secret for a while; otherwise they risk losing valuable time to promote the show--a more important goal than foiling the competition's counterprogramming efforts.
It is easier to delay the announcement of a theatrical movie such as "Rambo II," Harbert said, because that has the built-in promotion from its theatrical release. But waiting too long to announce the scheduling for a new TV movie such as ABC's "Elvis and Me," which aired Feb. 7, could spell death.
"We had to announce it eight to 10 weeks in advance," he said. "If we hadn't, we wouldn't have been able to get the TV Guide cover, and we wanted that cover."
Harbert said the networks must announce their programs at least 10 days in advance of air date to get a TV Guide listing, and at least 17 days in advance to place an ad. And "nobody goes without a TV Guide ad during sweeps," he said.