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Seeking gold in programming against Olympics


Hollywood -- The counter-programming games have begun.

NBC is counting on gold-medal ratings for the next two weeks with its Summer Olympics coverage, which began over the weekend with the opening ceremonies. But the other networks do not plan to give up without a fight.

CBS, ABC and Fox are putting forth their own teams of movies, miniseries, specials and specially packaged repeats against the Olympics in an effort to be competitive in prime time.

Although executives from the three networks said, realistically, they do not expect to beat NBC between now and Aug. 9, the day of the closing ceremonies, the strategy is to attempt to score points with younger and female viewers.

"This is a tough time for us, to be sure," said Steve Warner, CBS' vice president of program planning and scheduling. "After all, NBC has invested about $700 million into the Olympics. That's an enormous investment. We hope it brings more viewers to television, and that we can be competitive."

Alan Sternfeld, vice president of program planning and scheduling for ABC, said: "We have a realistic assessment of what the Olympics represent -- they are the premiere event of sports. But we're going to give an alternative to those who don't want to watch or have overloaded on sports."

ABC's strongest card in that effort, Mr. Sternfeld said, is its situation comedies. "We're going to load the schedule with as much comedy as possible," he said. "That will give a choice to children, teens and young adults who might not be interested in the Games."

A key element of the strategy is the scheduling of the original pilots of several popular series -- "Roseanne," "Home Improvement," "Coach," "The Wonder Years" and "Doogie Howser, M.D."

Stars of those series will also offer special commentaries and present some of their favorite episodes during the two-week stretch.

ABC will also repeat several specials: the "Happy Days Reunion" at 8:30 tonight (on Channel 13) followed by the MTV 10th anniversary special at 10, then the miniseries "It," based on Stephen King's best-seller, coming Aug. 2 and 3. Also scheduled is a "lost" episode of "Homefront" tomorrow that has never been shown, and a "20/20" special with Barbara Walters Aug. 4.

The highlight of CBS' counter-programming will be the premiere of two four-hour miniseries: "Conspiracy of Silence" and Barbara Taylor Bradford's "To Be the Best."

"Conspiracy of Silence," a Canadian production that began last night on Channel 11 and concludes tomorrow, concerns a town that covered up a murder for 16 years. "To Be the Best," a romantic drama starring Lindsay Wagner and Anthony Hopkins, will air Aug. 2 and 4.

CBS will also air new episodes of its summer series, including "Bodies of Evidence" and "Grapevine," and "we're also hoping that folks will tune in to our regularly strong comedy lineup," Mr. Warner said, which tonight includes "Murphy Brown," "Evening Shade" and "Designing Women."

At Fox, Betsy Wagner, vice president of publicity and public relations, said network executives believe their strong slate of original programming will attract younger viewers uninterested in the Olympics. Fox will offer them new episodes of "Melrose Place," "Beverly Hills, 90210," "Cops," "Parker Lewis" and "Down the Shore."

"I think the Games are a draw for older males who want to see the basketball or the track and field," Ms. Wagner said.

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