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Fox lends a shoe

Michael J. Fox has been enlisted to help promote the second season of off-net Spin City episodes, the first in the syndication batch that will feature Charlie Sheen, Fox's replacement in the starring role. Fox will join Sheen and Heather Locklear for the campaign, to be unveiled this week at the Promax/BDA convention in Miami. When the spots launch this summer, it will be the first time viewers will see all three stars together on screen. The three are then scheduled to appear together in the show's network season premiere this fall. One of the spots is entitled "Really Big Shoes" (see below), which points out that Sheen has his work cut out for him.

S.A.

New deal for FCC

New FCC Commissioner Michael Copps proudly points to a portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt silently presiding over an office that a few weeks ago was occupied by conservative economist Harold Furchtgott-Roth (no New Dealer he). But Copps credits FDR with "saving capitalism" by infusing America's faltering free-market economy with a healthy dose of social justice. But when it comes to the FCC, the former history professor sounds like an old-school Democrat. Although he's willing to consider relaxation of media-ownership rules, he first wants to see how changes would benefit Americans. And when it comes to enforcing government rules against indecent broadcasts, he says the FCC isn't doing enough. "Conducting two to three dozen inquiries a year is insufficient," he told B&C last week.

B.M.

FCC loosening up?

The FCC has always taken a harsh line against broadcasters who lied in their dealings with the agency, known as "lack of candor" in the commission's official parlance. That is especially true in license challenges.

But Washington attorneys say things are changing now that the government auctions licenses to help fill its coffers. Some say the agency is no longer taking the hard line that once led to an elderly woman losing a chance at a permit because her application misrepresented her age by a year.

An FCC decision last month awarded Liberty Productions the license for a new FM in Biltmore Forest, N.C., even though an agency administrative judge disqualified the company for telling the FCC it had a landowner's permission to construct a transmission site when it didn't. Three of the four commissioners overruled the judge on grounds that Liberty may have believed it had permission. Only Commissioner Gloria Tristani objected, arguing the panel had no reason to reverse the judge's ruling, made after an eight-day hearing. She also complained the commission had set a new standard of review making rules against misrepresentation almost unenforceable." Enforcement Bureau attorney James Shook, however, said the other commissioners' decision was based solely on the facts of Liberty's case and that the standard for determining misrepresentation hasn't changed.

B.M.

Digital competition

NAB board members were surprised to hear that EchoStar is considering carrying a national HDTV feed from Raleigh, N.C.-based Capitol Broadcasting's WRAL-DT. Broadcasters are concerned that EchoStar would offer a nationwide service in so-called "digital white areas," i.e., markets not already being served by a CBS affiliate's digital signal. CBS has digital affiliates in 40 or so markets, theoretically allowing EchoStar to offer WRAL-DT everywhere else in competition with local analog CBS affiliates. That prospect troubles broadcasters, and EchoStar says its plans are uncertain.

"We are excited about the possibility of launching WRAL, but are still in discussions about the degree of distribution," says spokeswoman Judianne Atencio.

P.A.

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