Splitting the Difference

Networks and stations got some of what they wanted last week when the Congress passed the 39% ownership cap. (Opponents wanted the old 35% limit; others wanted 45%.) The FCC also got something it desperately needed: two more years between ownership reviews. The biennial review had simply not allowed enough time between potential overhauls for the deliberation, decision and inevitable challenges.

The networks had fought to preserve the FCC's new 45% cap. Of course, what they really wanted was no cap, but, absent that, they wanted as much as they could get. Certainly, Fox and CBS will be happy not to have to divest stations, while the other nets at least have some more room to grow. If they want to exceed the new cap, there is always the waiver route. Fox and CBS exceeded 35% for years.

The NAB had pushed to roll back the cap to 35% but was satisfied with the outcome. "It's just about the best result we could have hoped for," said one NAB board member last week. Almost. The networks' return to the NAB fold would put the capper on the cap story.

NAB took some heat for pulling back from the 45% rollback effort when that re-regulatory position appeared to be collecting too much other baggage. That decision looks better in hindsight, although network affiliates get credit for the "clean" bill, too, continuing to hammer away at 45% when NAB moved to the sidelines.

Meanwhile, the challenges to the FCC's other rules, including permitting newspaper/broadcast crossownership and more duopolies, remain yoked to the slow-grinding wheels of Justice. Perhaps Congress should have made the review every six years.

Captain, our Captain

Bob Keeshan, who died last week at 76, entertained and educated several generations of children as grandfatherly Captain Kangaroo. As commercial TV's most respected children's host, he helped navigate a path between the popular vaudeville antics of icon Buffalo Bob (for whom Keeshan had played Clarabelle the Clown) and the gentle teachings of noncom icon Fred Rogers, taking some of both and mixing in a moose, a rabbit, a dancing bear, a talking clock, a bunch of carrots, a big set of keys, and lots and lots of Ping-Pong balls. The result was high-quality, low-key entertainment for 30 years on CBS and another half dozen on PBS.

Keeshan had the flamboyance of a showman. But he was also a gentle teacher, encouraging a love of animals and books that made his show a respite from the cartoon carnivals that characterized much of early children's commercial TV. Let's see some hands. How many of you read Make Way for Ducklings
or Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, or bought them for your kids, because The Captain read it to you first. TV has lost a true friend.