Citing NBC U, Hollywood Hammers FCC

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Hollywood continues to take aim at the FCC's deregulatory approach to media ownership rules Monday, this time using NBC U's announcement last week of a reduction in scripted shows at 8 p.m. as ammunition.

The FCC got an earful from unions and producers, notably Stephen J. Cannel (rhymes with "channel") at its media ownership hearing in L.A. at the beginning of this month. Now, the Center for Creative Voices in Media say the FCC's deregulatory course of the past decade has made former FCC Chairman Newton Minow's wasteland even vaster.

In comments filed at the FCC--deadline for the first round is today (Oct. 23)--the coalition, which boasts Tony, Oscar and Emmy winners among its backers, the last including Steven Bochco, argues that the commission's "ill-considered" ownership policies are "harming competition, diversity of viewpoints and localism."

"General Electric's recent announcement that it would reduce or eliminate scripted programming on its NBC network in the 8-9 p.m. hour of primetime is particularly illustrative of the unintended harmful consequences of FCC policy changes that have had the practical effect of eliminating independently-produced programming from the public's airwaves," the group argued.

"Just two years ago, NBC's 8 p.m. hour block was home to Friends, a hugely popular hit produced by strong independent producers – one of the few shows still running from the days when FCC policies properly protected the right of independents to access the network airwaves. "

Now, says the group, "with GE/NBC taking advantage of FCC rule changes to eliminate independent producers and take over for itself the production of programming, NBC's own in-house studio has developed and produced few successful 8 p.m. scripted shows....[A]dmitting failure, NBC will forego scripted programming in the 8 p.m. hour, and replace it with game shows and so-called 'reality' programming –some of the very programming that Newton Minow cited when he described television as a 'vast wasteland.'"

The odd coupling of Hollywood and content critic the Parents Television Council on the issue of ownership continues, with center Executive Director Jonathan Rintels giving props to PTC Executive Director Tim Winter.

"[I]t has become clear that family-friendly programming has a better chance of reaching audiences in a creative environment where competition, diversity of viewpoints, and localism exist, while crass, lowest common denominator programming is much more likely to proliferate in a consolidated media environment," said Rintels, who included a cop of a survey, Ownership Concentration and Indecency in Broadcasting: Is There a Link?," with the center's comments Monday.

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