Fox drops late-night programs Stern may be factor

January 12, 1994|By Tom Jicha | Tom Jicha,Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

Fox is temporarily getting out of the late-night business again.

Beginning Jan. 31, the 11 p.m. ET hour that has been filled by reruns of "In Living Color" since Chevy Chase self-destructed in October will be turned back to affiliates to program on their own.

"Because our priority right now is our commitment to the NFL and because we know that most affiliates have programming on the shelf, which they can use to maximize their opportunities in late night, we are temporarily suspending our late-night feed while continuing our late-night development efforts," Preston Padden, Fox executive vice president for affiliate relations, said in a statement released to the news media.

The announcement came less than a week after Howard Stern's notoriously raunchy pay-per-view New Year's Eve special set new standards for tastelessness as well as receipts. The buzz in Hollywood is that the timing is not a coincidence.

Fox had been negotiating with Mr. Stern, a proven audience magnet, to host a late-night program. However, the scuttlebutt is that Fox boss Rupert Murdoch screened Mr. Stern's pay-per-view event and decreed that he didn't want the shock jock on his network.

The FCC has come down hard for indecency violations on radio stations that carry Mr. Stern's program. Several of these stations are appealing more than $1 million in fines levied against them for blue material broadcast by Mr. Stern. Speculation is that after the commission helped him, Mr. Murdoch didn't want to have to go to war with the commission over things Mr. Stern might do on TV.

Addressing the Stern situation during his network's portion of the midseason press tour, NBC West Coast President Don Ohlmeyer paid tribute to Mr. Stern's skills at self-promotion but said he brings along too much baggage to be attractive to a mainstream network.

"Howard is the dark side of your mind. You listen to him, you laugh, then you feel bad about laughing. But I think Howard is the greatest promoter of our time. He promoted himself into what, 400,000 people paying $40 for lesbian ice sculptors. P. T. Barnum could never gross $16 million on lesbian ice sculptors. But I think Howard's act is one that works [only] in the medium that he's working" -- radio.

Mr. Ohlmeyer said this doesn't mean that Mr. Stern can't be effective on a network such as NBC in small, controlled doses.

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