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Fox to Unveil National Block to All Stations

Feb 20, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Fox Television Stations executives are expected to present information this week to the general managers of its nine UPN affiliates about the two-hour programming block with which the group will replace UPN prime-time programming by September.

The block is also going up for sale to TV stations throughout the country that are not owned by Fox. It is being positioned as a programming solution for the many stations that will not have a network affiliation come fall.

Like Fox’s UPN stations, many local broadcasters are faced with the loss of prime-time programming once provided by UPN and The WB-or with the option of paying reverse compensation to affiliate with The CW, the network resulting from the merger of UPN and The WB.

The block is likely to be offered as a whole, not as individual programs, and “Desire,” the hour-long telenovela strip originally developed for Fox-owned stations to run in late-night, is expected to be part of the block, according to sources.

To that end, “Desire” is expected ultimately to be pulled back from availability as a stand-alone syndicated program, sources said.

It is unclear whether “Desire’s” inclusion in the block will affect the program’s planned June syndication debut.

Fox syndication arm Twentieth Television announced Jan. 23-the day before formation of The CW was announced-that it was fast-tracking the debut of “Desire” to this summer.

The program originally was scheduled to debut in September.

“Desire” is designed as a franchise of English-language novelas that run for 13 weeks each. Twentieth said in its Jan. 23 announcement that it would produce at least three telenovelas per year.

“Desire” has been sold to stations representing some 70 percent of the country for a summer debut, a source said Friday. Twentieth said in its announcement last month that the program was cleared in 65 percent.

A spokesman for Twentieth declined to discuss Fox’s still unnamed block and any effects it may have on “Desire’s” launch.

“Lots of things are being discussed, and I can’t comment further than that,” he said.

Sales of the block are to be handled by Twentieth. The distribution unit has been testing potential interest in the “alternative national program service” that Fox Television Stations President Jack Abernethy announced internally in a memo dated Feb. 9.

In the memo, Mr. Abernethy played to stations-which early on were resistant to The CW’s requirements of its affiliates-by saying the Fox program service “will be more flexible, offer better marketing and branding opportunities and be more station friendly.” In some quarters there was talk last week that some clearances of the Fox block might be announced this week. The Fox-owned UPN affiliates, four of which are in the top five markets, give the Fox programming service a significant distribution start.