Veteran TV programmer Steven J. Cannell (Rockford Files, Commish) led off an FCC ownership hearing in L.A. Tuesday by saying that CBS had once refused to program a pilot of his unless he transferred ownership to the network.
Cannell (rhymes with channel), a member of the Caucus of Television Producers, Writers & Directors, told all five FCC commissioners in attendance that the ability of independents to move from one network to another had been insurance against being forced to change content or give up control as the quid pro quo for network play.
Before the FCC dropped rules in the early 1990's that prevented networks from owning a financial interest in the domestic syndicated profits from shows on their networks, Cannell said that when an ABC or CBS did not like the casting or premise of his shows, he could take then too another network.
He said ABC hated The Rockford Files and its quirky hero, played by James Garner, but because he worked for then-independent Universal, he took it to NBC, where it became a hit. He said that would never have happened if he did not have the freedom to take it to NBC because ABC "would have forced me to change the content."
After the rules were scrapped, he said, CBS loved a pilot he had produced with George C. Scott, but would not program it unless he gave up his financial interest.
Taylor Hackford, of the Directors Guild of America, pushed the FCC to require 25% of all network prime time programming be produced by true independent programmers.
The FCC was in town for the first of six ownership hearings it is conducting as it decides how to rewrite rules on how much bigger media companies can become. On hand to speak were a number of union representatives, at least two California legislators, and Jesse Jackson
California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters used the opportunity to ask the FCC not to grant a waiver to Tribune to continue to own both the L.A. Times and KLTA TV in the market.