It may not come as a surprise to those who like to bash the Tampa Bay area's conservative values, but Tampa's WFTS-Ch. 28 is not among the 29 ABC affiliates nationwide that will air an anti-gay discrimination advertisement April 30, planned for broadcast during a special "coming out" episode on the comedy Ellen.
But the reason Tampa area viewers won't see the spot _ crafted by a Washington, D.C.-based gay rights group _ is one some critics might not expect: The air time is just too expensive.
Officials at the Human Rights Campaign turned to local affiliates when their ad was nixed for nationwide broadcast by ABC, which cited a strict policy against issue-oriented commercials.
The 30-second advertisement, bankrolled by a $225,000 donation from lesbian business executive Jessica Stevens, was designed to generate support for a federal law banning job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
After requesting costs from 74 markets across the country, the group settled on buying spots in 29 markets nationwide for $175,000 _ the cost of a single, 30-second space of network time during the show. But the campaign couldn't afford to include WFTS; tied with a Dallas affiliate for the second-highest ad rate among the 59 stations that responded, at $20,000 (Los Angeles took the top spot, priced at $40,000).
WFTS officials say they presented an unusually high price because the few ad spaces allowed for local affiliates _ probably two or three _ have already been sold. "If someone wants in, we would have to bump another advertiser that already has time," said WFTS station manager Bob Jordan.
"You can anticipate that this Ellen will have the highest ratings it's ever delivered," Jordan added of the episode, in which the lead character will reveal her lesbianism. "Anybody who bought that advertising time (already) paid a premium price."
David Smith, communications director for the Human Rights Campaign, also shied away from any allegations that ABC or local affiliates were discriminating against the group _ which claims to be the country's largest gay and lesbian political organization, at 175,000 members.
"Apparently, (ABC) didn't accept advertising during the health care debate, either," Smith said. "There's no evidence they have treated us any differently. We just think it's sad they have judged a person getting fired simply because they're gay _ a sad fact of life for many gay people _ is controversial, issue-oriented advertising."
Smith said seven ABC affiliates _ including stations in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago _ turned down a request for ad rates, citing allegiance with the network's policy on issue-oriented advertising.
+ After just one episode, Fox has ruled against Lawless. The new action-adventure series, starring ex-football player Brian Bosworth and filmed in Miami Beach, had its first _ and last _ appearance Saturday. It finished 89th among 110 shows in last week's Nielsens. America's Most Wanted: America Fights Back will bounce back Saturday to its hourlong format and its 9 p.m. start, after back-to-back episodes of Cops.
+ NBC will launch a fourth edition of Dateline NBC at 10 p.m. Mondays for a summer run beginning June 2. Dateline, with Jane Pauley and Stone Phillips, now airs Sunday, Tuesday and Friday.
_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.