We've seen the Big Three networks stoop to some petty conflicts with each other, but this is getting really small. It seems that NBC and CBS are so worried about promoting rival ABC's NYPD Blue that they're refusing to run an ad featuring the show's star, Dennis Franz.

Franz appears in a new Cadillac commercial where he flags down a Mercedes and tells the driver he's going to be cited for "driving a luxury car without enough horsepower."

"You some kind of cop?" asks the driver. "Something like that," answers Franz, who plays TV Detective Andy Sipowicz.

But Franz's wink is too much for NBC and CBS--the networks would rather turn down ad revenue than risk hyping an ABC show. "We run ads that have stars of other networks' shows all the time," said CBS spokesman Michael Silver. "But this advertisement is promotional of another network's show. Dennis Franz isn't being Dennis Franz, he's being Detective Sipowicz." An NBC spokeswoman agreed, saying her network "prohibits direct or indirect promotion of a program or event featured on competing media."

This might signal a new era in network sniping. As Silver points out, the three rivals have always aired ads featuring big stars from other networks. CBS' Candice Bergen ubiquitously endorses Sprint--one commercial even features her talking to her Murphy Brown mates. NBC's Jerry Seinfeld peddles American Express in his usual sitcom-style wit.

But as long as the actors don't approximate their TV characters in commercials, the ads are safe. "This has become more of an issue recently," an anonymous Madison Avenue exec told the Wall Street Journal. "The networks are taking a tougher stand on this issue because more people are utilizing TV stars in their ads."

Don't feel sorry for ABC because the other networks dissed their star, though. The Disney-owned network recently nixed a Pepsi commercial that featured a trenchcoated Robert Stack doing a parody of his Unsolved Mysteries persona.

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