It was the White House vs. the Mouse House over the weekend as Your Brain on Drugs-gate continued to rage, and The Reporters Who Cover Television--who thought they had come to sunny California to chat about new TV shows--found themselves caught in a hail of acronyms.
On Saturday ABC President Patricia Fili-Krushel told TRWCT that the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) this season required the Disney-owned network to send it scripts of entertainment series episodes prior to broadcast in order to get credit for them in the ONDCP's media campaign.
On Friday, ONDCP reps had stood before the same crowd and told them that that was not a requirement.
Congress decided a couple of years back that for every dollar the campaign spends buying ad time on a broadcast network to deliver its anti-drug message, that network must come up with a 100 percent match in public service activity. That activity can take the form of on-air public service announcements or anti-drug messages delivered right in series story lines, among other things. Going the latter route freed up valuable ad time that the networks could sell for millions of dollars.
In the first year of the campaign, ONDCP allowed episodes to be submitted to its ad agency after airing, Fili-Krushel said. But in a meeting last spring, ABC was told by the drug agency that "the requirements for the programming match had been changed to include script submission prior to air," she said.
Fili-Krushel was very specific on this subject and repeated her assertion several times during and after her Q&A session with TRWCT.
As a result of the change, the network told ONDCP that it would not agree to submit its scripts prior to broadcast and that this year it would meet its congressionally mandated match obligation via public service announcements.
Script submission "wasn't something that we were comfortable with," she said.
"We told them that we would only take the matching funds for PSAs, that we would not submit any scripts or any programs before they aired."
Fili-Krushel also said Saturday that on Friday--the same day ONDCP was telling TRWCT that it did not ask for scripts or tapes prior to broadcast--the ONDCP called ABC to say that it was going back to Plan A--no script or tape required prior to broadcast.
Why would ONDCP want the scripts in advance? Fili-Krushel was asked by the reporters on the winter press tour, who are required to submit their columns and articles to their editors in advance of publication--so that editors can make changes to their writing.
Fili-Krushel suggested they ask the drug office directly.
In a two-page, single-spaced statement issued over the weekend, the agency said it "has received transcripts or programs to determine whether content is supportive" of its media campaign's "strategic communications objectives in order to qualify for public service credit."
It also said that "at no time during the process did ONDCP--or any organization affiliated with the media campaign--suggest changes, nor were any episodes or programs resubmitted for reconsideration in exchange for pro-bono match credit. Indeed, we have always assumed that any transcripts or programs submitted for public service value qualification were final product and not subject to further change."
Alan Levitt, director of the ONDCP's National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, in town to address the press tour, says ABC must have misunderstood.
"We may have said we will give you some guidance," Levitt said today, but, he insists, at no time was ABC told it had to submit scripts in advance.
If it was "inferred" during that meeting last spring, it was a "miscommunication" that Levitt, who attended it, said he takes full responsibility for.
What about that Friday phone call to ABC? Levitt says the call was from him, not to say that the ONDCP was going back to Plan A but to say that there had been a misunderstanding.
Asked why the ONDCP statement issued Saturday does not actually state for the record that the organization never asked for scripts in advance of broadcast, Levitt said he did not know. The statement, he explained, was written back in Washington.
Wow, another victim of ONDCP miscommunication.
Levitt wasn't the only one having a tough weekend. ABC Entertainment Television Group Co-chairman Lloyd Braun, for instance, was suffering from Rip van Winkle Syndrome and apparently has been in this state of deep sleep since August, when "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" first debuted on his network. So he was totally unaware that executives at a number of ABC stations weren't happy that the ratings monster hasn't been airing in the 10-11 p.m. hour where it would do their local late-night newscasts the most good.
Co-chairman Stu Bloomberg "and I have not been getting complaints," Braun said. "When we've spoken to the affiliates, they've been thrilled with the success of the show."
And, speaking of game shows, with one airing on each of the major broadcast networks, it looks like Phase 1 of this mania has ended and we're now moving into Phase 2--niche game shows.
"Millionaire" Executive Producer Michael Davies reports that he's considering doing special editions of "Millionaire" that will focus entirely on the Super Bowl, or the Oscars, or the Emmys--ABC has broadcast rights to each of these franchises this year.
And over at cable's Animal Planet, they're planning to debut their own game show contender Jan. 31: "You Lie Like a Dog."
The show will feature three celebrity panelists who try to determine which of three people claiming to own a certain pet is the Real McCoy. On the first show, pets include a skateboarding dog, a basketball-playing pig and a potty-trained iguana.
Then the panelists try to figure out which of two "pet professionals" is a fraud. The pilot episode features a skunk rehabilitator, a dog show judge, a ladybug harvester, a cat masseuse, a mobile vet and a veterinary harp therapist.
Early panelists include O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark, comedians Fred Willard, Kevin Meaney and Jimmie Walker, actor Harland Williams, author Barbara Howar and--of course--Dr. Joyce Brothers.
Animal Planet has scheduled the show to air Monday through Friday nights from 7:30 to 8, which keeps it out of prime time and therefore out of the path of ABC's "Millionaire," NBC's "Twenty One," CBS's "Winning Lines" and Fox's "Greed."