NEW YORK (AP) â€” For many fans of ABC's ``Good Morning America,'' it wasn't such a beautiful morning today.
A quarrel over transmission rights between Time Warner Inc. and the Walt Disney Co. left seven Disney-owned ABC stations off of local cable systems. The only way for cable customers to see ABC programs would be to rig their TVs to get an ABC station the old-fashioned way, through an antenna.
A total of 3.5 million homes were affected in seven markets, according to Michael Luftman, spokesman for Time Warner. Cable customers were without ABC programming in New York City; Los Angeles; Houston; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Toledo, Ohio; and small parts of Time Warner systems in Fresno, Calif., and Philadelphia.
The move comes in the midst of May sweeps, the period when ratings are used to set local advertising rates. Sweeps began Thursday and last until May 24.
``Disney has taken ABC away from you,'' read a Time Warner message on the cable channel that normally carries WABC-TV, ABC's affiliate in New York City. ``We offered a proposal that would have kept ABC for our customers. Disney said no.''
Disney had offered a series of deadline extensions after the original national transmission deal expired Dec. 31. The most recent deadline, offered in March, expired at 12:01 a.m. today.
However, Disney said today it had already given Time Warner permission to carry the seven stations through May 24, the last day of the sweeps period, and accused Time Warner of lying to its customers.
In the next weeks, ABC is set to air four celebrity editions of ``Who Wants to be a Millionaire'', the conclusion of its miniseries ``Arabian Nights,'' the Daytime Emmys, Saturday's Kentucky Derby and virtually all of its prime-time season finales. The first celebrity ``Millionaire'' is set for tonight.
``Some deranged individual has deprived all of these people of ABC,'' said Preston Padden, executive vice president of governmental relations at Disney. ``These people are arrogant manipulators.''
Padden said Disney had asked the Federal Communications Commission to intervene, saying it is illegal for a cable system to take a broadcaster off the system during the sweeps period.
In Washington, an FCC spokewoman said the group was reviewing Disney's appeal.
Representatives from both companies were expected to meet with FCC officials later today to discuss their positions.
Disney has asked that Time Warner cable systems not only feature its new channels â€” Toon Disney and a soap opera channel â€” but also make the Disney Channel part of the basic service packages. Time Warner has agreed to Disney's demands but has balked at the amount of money it says Disney is seeking.
``Disney is trying to inappropriately use its ownership of ABC television stations to extract excessive and unreasonable terms for its cable TV channels â€” terms that would add hundreds of millions of dollars in costs for Time Warner Cable and its customers,'' said Fred Dressler, senior vice president for programming for Time Warner Cable.
ABC and other over-the-air networks have had the right to seek compensation from cable providers in exchange for their programming under the 1992 Cable TV Act.
``There are going to be some seriously irritated people out there,'' said ABC spokeswoman Julie Hoover. ``Time Warner operates like a monopoly and it is willing to do anything to achieve its objectives. They don't care about their viewers, and this is retaliation because ABC isn't buckling to their demands.''
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