"The perfect example is 'Roseanne,'" said the industry source. "The affiliates had to make a two-year commitment to take it. The ratings stunk. Most of them wanted to drop it after two months."

But the affiliates couldn't. They had been forced into their commitment and reliant on syndicated programming from the networks and other production companies (such as King World Productions, which produced the Roseanne Barr vehicle).

"The whole business of (syndicated) broadcast TV is changing," said Campo, explaining how his company's partnership with NBC would put an end to affiliate stations being left holding a bag of bad syndicated shows. "Our partnership platform with Gannett and NBC means pre-approved programming with input from regional audiences," he said.

Terms of the deal are undisclosed, but the time frame for development and distribution was left open-ended, an NBC spokesman said.

As Hearst-Argyle's executive vice president and COO, Tony Vinciquerra pointed out there's a clear advantage for NBC. Instead of sending its sales force out to the nation's 210 programming markets, it can lock up over 120 of those markets with "two phone calls" and launch its syndicated shows immediately.

"The old way of doing things is over," said Vinciquerra. "This agreement emphasizes the importance of content on a local and national level and the importance of leadership TV stations to the success of that content."

In other words, memo to the networks: keep us happy or else.

Keeping advertisers happy

While NBC has been making sure its affiliates are pleased with its syndicated programming, ABC is leading the way in romancing advertisers. At a development meeting with national media buyers last week, ABC Entertainment Television Group co-chairmen Lloyd Braun and Stuart Bloomberg went above and beyond the call of duty in trumpeting their 2001-2002 lineup. The two promised "to put their money where their mouth is" by sending out copies of the pilot scripts of their new comedies and dramas to any buyers who requested them.

Thus, national advertisers will get a first peek at ABC's upcoming projects while the scripts are still undergoing changes and are susceptible to input. Advertising executives will be able to comment on shows ranging from a new comedy by "Seinfeld" alumnus Jason Alexander to a drama starring Sally Field.

"It sounds like a throwback to the old days when the advertisers had creative control," opined the industry insider.

ABC strongly rejected the idea that the network would take advertiser input into consideration when programming its content.

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