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No FCC Fines Yet in 2005? That Won't Last

In 2005's glide path to the year's end, FCC-trackers are noting that the commission has yet to issue a single TV-related indecency decision. But they don't expect that record to remain intact until Dec. 31.

According to a source close to the commission, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is unlikely to let his rookie year go down in the books as the first since at least 1993 without any proposed actions. There have been settlements of complaints through consent decrees but no fine proposals—a bit of a drop-off from the $7,928,080 in proposed fines in 2004.

The FCC's Media Bureau is even now editing the year's group of TV complaints, although, at press time, the package had not gone up to the commissioners for their review and comment.

According to two high-placed sources, the package does not include decisions on the challenges to the commission's ruling that the f-word is indecent when used as an adjective (the Bono decision) and that Janet Jackson's partially exposed breast is just plain indecent. We have that to look forward to in 2006.

Fox Ponders Less Fall Baseball

Fox Sports Television Group Chairman and CEO David Hill says, if Fox continues to broadcast Major League Baseball's first round of the playoffs, it may restrict coverage to weekend games. Reducing the baseball postseason interruption would leave Fox freer to join the new-fall-programming scrum with other networks.

“If we kept the Division Series,” Hill says, “it will just be two or three games of each series, such as just Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays.”

Fox is talking to MLB about a renewal of its current broadcast-rights package, which runs through the end of the 2006 season. The package includes all baseball playoff games except some first-round, weekday games that ESPN shows. Those games were originally carried on Fox Family Channel but moved to Disney after it acquired the cable channel, which is now ABC Family.

Hill says Fox's plans are still pending: He has not ruled out the network keeping the entire Division Series nor jettisoning it altogether and just airing the League Championship Series and World Series.

“That's still open for debate,” he says. “If I had my way, we'd keep all the baseball. But we will end up sitting in a room with Peter Chernin and Peter Liguori [News Corp. president and Fox Entertainment president, respectively] and deciding: Would it be better or worse without baseball?” Kind of the way Cubs fans feel.

Court Disorder

With the January National Association of Television Program Executives' show-buying conference looming, a surprising ratings trend in syndicated TV has developed recently that could have major consequences for syndication studios when they gather in Las Vegas. The once-sizzling court genre has suddenly cooled—a disconcerting development for buyers who planned on putting their first-run bets for next fall on nearly a dozen new and returning court shows.

In the past, the genre has been a safe wager in the cyclical syndication business, considering that shows like Judge Judy have made it one of the hottest program categories for a decade. Court programs boast a 50% survival rate, versus about 20% for all first-run syndicated shows. Moreover, last season—and early this fall—most TV judges saw their ratings climb from the previous year.

But then something changed. Since the week of Oct. 14, more court shows have wound up in the losing column each week, in terms of year-to-year household ratings, than have posted gains. During the most recent week for which Nielsen ratings were available (ended Nov. 13), five court shows, including category leader Judge Judy—which nonetheless posted a season-high number—saw their ratings drop. Only one showed improvement.

Could it be a case of oversaturation? Not likely. There are seven court shows now on the air, the same number as last year and fewer than in some recent years. We asked a senior studio researcher for his analysis. He blames ill- advised attempts by established court shows to woo younger demos with more gimmicks, such as courtroom demonstrations and reports from the field. The genre's core viewers, largely the 50-plus audience, were not pleased.

“They want their old court shows,” he says. “These older people are not just buying into this new style.”

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