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Fox Stations Are Optimistic

Jan 30, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Anything UPN’s programming team had done, Fox Television Stations could and would do better, was the mantra at News Corp. when it learned last week that at least eight of nine Fox-owned UPN affiliates would soon be independent and responsible for their own prime-time programming in the wake of the creation of The CW.

“We could make it more profitable,” said an executive at News Corp., which had faced off against Nielsen Media Research for more than a year rather than concede that the dramatic drops among minority viewership for UPN programming were real and not just a reflection of the switch to Nielsen’s Local People Meters in major markets.

“We’ve got more broadcasting real estate than anybody and what’s more exciting than that?,” said Jack Abernethy, president of Fox Television Stations, which owns 35 stations, including Fox-UPN duopolies in five major markets where Tribune Broadcasting or CBS-owned stations are guaranteed The CW affiliation.

News Corp. worked last week to tamp down speculation that there are serious plans for Fox-owned UPN affiliates to become Fox Jr. stations, programmed strictly with hand-me-downs repurposed from such in-family sources as Fox News Channel, Fox Sports and FX.

Other speculation centered on an all-news format. But while under the team of Mr. Abernethy and Roger Ailes, chairman of the Fox Stations Group and Fox News, the beefing up of local news operations already was a certainty, News Corp. sources made clear that all-news is not the future for Fox’s UPN stations.

Indeed, there is much talk about the increased value of “Desire,” the telenovela franchise developed by Twentieth Television for stripping in late-night or afternoons. There is strong expectation that “Desire” will be stripped at 10 p.m. weeknights, pushing local news on Fox’s UPN stations back to 11 p.m.

“There are a lot of different opportunities to program these stations,” Mr. Abernethy said. “There’s more than just one-hour dramas or half-hour, once-a-week comedies, which by the way, The WB and UPN didn’t do very well with over a long period of time.

“There’s sports. There’s strip programming. There’s novelas. There are a lot of things that are working. And there are a lot of new models that are working, like in cable,” he said, returning to his first point: “We’re very excited about this.”

Many in the industry also quickly suggested that the Fox Stations Group take the lead in corralling programming to fill the 13-hour hole that will be left in prime time by the loss of UPN programming come September.

“I guess we already are with ‘Desire,’ when you ask the question that way,” Mr. Abernethy said.