Fox splurges for a skater reunion, Dan Aykroyd's 'Soul Man,' and more news from the TV beat during the week of February 20/27, 1998

Cold Cash
Here’s a real knee-slapper: You know that cheesy but high-rated Fox reunion of ice queens Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan? Word is the network had to pull some fancy financial footwork to land that skating summit (which drew nearly twice the net’s average Thursday-night audience). First, Fox had to cough up $200,000 to Kerrigan just to get her in the same room with Harding, who was to receive no compensation for her time. When Harding got wind of this arrangement, however, she flipped and squeezed the net for $60,000. What Harding doesn’t know is that Fox then went back to Kerrigan and sweetened her deal by $500,000. (Fox did not return calls seeking comment.) Guess it’s only fair that this time it was Harding who got the short end of the stick.

No Soul
Is ABC embarrassed by Soul Man? That’s what the folks think at Wind Dancer, the company that produces the surprisingly popular Dan Aykroyd sitcom. Why else, they say, would the network not only refuse to heavily promote the show, but pull it off the air to make room for mid-season recruit Something So Right even though Aykroyd’s Blues Brothers 2000 is in theaters?

Soul Man, which is averaging 14.4 million viewers in its Tuesday 8:30 p.m. berth, has been a steady performer for ABC since its mid-season debut last year. It’s no secret, however, that ABC Entertainment president Jamie Tarses has never been a huge fan of the series (last year, Tarses initially ordered only three episodes, which looked like very poor planning when Soul Man became an overnight smash).

Of course, shows get benched all the time, and the producers and stars always react with predictable indignation. (Remember when Dennis Franz berated ABC execs for taking NYPD Blue off the air to showcase The Practice?) But Wind Dancer, which also produces ABC’s megahit Home Improvement, firmly believes there’s a conspiracy against Soul Man. Says one Wind Dancer exec, “ABC is embarrassed that the show is a success because it goes against their plan to yuppify the network.” Further complicating matters: Wind Dancer’s ongoing legal battle against the network and its parent studio, Disney, over the price tag to renew Home Improvement.

While ABC has no official comment, network insiders insist there is no agenda against the show and counter that Aykroyd hasn’t exactly been doing much to promote it either; the only times he stumped for Soul Man this season were for episodes featuring his wife, Donna Dixon, and Blues Brothers costar John Goodman.

As things stand now, Wind Dancer would prefer to move Soul Man to a different network — sources say CBS has shown interest in adding the show to its Monday-night lineup. But with the Alphabet still lacking many hits, it’s likely that — at least for the foreseeable future — you’ll have to do your Soul searching on ABC.