Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy told the group's general managers in a memo yesterday Fox wants to start a new national program service focusing on daily Monday to Friday strip programming rather than pricey $2 million weekly dramas and expensive sitcoms.
The message sent is this: It's 1986 all over again. That's when syndication business was in its heyday, and, when, coincidently, the new Fox network began.
The back-to-syndication movement was what every TV executive was mumbling while on the NATPE floor in Las Vegas when the news broke in late January that UPN and WB would go away, to be replaced by a new jointly owned CBS/Time Warner network, The CW.
But the real question is, why didn't Fox think about this before?
Buried deep in a memo, Abernethy said this, according to TV Week and Daily Variety: "Handing over 30 hours of valuable time, receiving little inventory to sell and being asked to pay comp [to the new CW] makes no sense for our TV stations. We are looking at production models and show concepts that are consistent with the digital challenges we face, rather than the $2 million an episode model which hasn't worked after 10 years."
For the most part, this is how Fox-owned UPN affiliates in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, have lived under UPN network rule. If it wasn't good before, why didn't Fox do something about it then?
Perhaps this is a clue: "It's a classic Fox tactic of attacking the other guy but not really talking up any virtues of its own," one executive told Daily Variety.
Through its TV history News Corp. has sometimes seemed like a bully. But at the time of the CW surprise announcement, you felt a little sorry for stations left in the lurch, including Fox outlets, in having the rug suddenly pulled out from under them. It seemed a little unfair to ask stations with only an eight-and-a-half month lead time to cobble together a brand new prime-time programming lineup from scratch.
Quick medicine will come from programming time-slot filling Monday through Friday strip programming, or perhaps the multi-episode a week airing of a new-styled English-language telenovela, "Desires," that sister company Twentieth Television has been offering in syndication.
We know now that the hard economics of a traditional network--the 10-year-old UPN and WB--had Fox station executives seething for change.
Now they have it. One needs to see if, as in 1986, when News Corp. revolutionized the concept of a new type of broadcast network, the company can morph another TV programming business in the age of the iPod, TiVo and mobile phones.