Jonathan Rintels, president of The Center for Creative Voices in Media, sees a link between media consolidation and the growing flap over Fox's O.J. Simpson If I Did It sweeps special, calling it the "dark side of synergy."
While a growing number of Fox affiliates say they won't carry the show, he says he has heard of no network-owned station who has dropped out. The center represents a number of Hollywood writers, independent producers, on-air talent and others in Washington, pushing against more media consolidation and the indecency crackdown, among others.
"Stations owned by the national network don't preempt for taste reasons or content reasons content that their network is putting out there," he says, a check and balance that is missing because of consolidation. Rintels and company argue that a lot of the indecency complaints can be traced to formerly locally owned stations bought up by the networks after the FCC lifted the ownership caps.
He concedes that Fox O&O carriage could also be a factor of the size of the markets and the tastes of those viewers, which may differ from programmers in smaller markets, North Dakota’s Prime Cities Broadcasting is an example, which isn't carrying the special.
Still, he says that while some affiliates appear to be queasy about carrying the show, Fox-owned stations "don't seem very perturbed." Without the large base of owned stations allowed by the FCC, says Rintels, Fox might have had to be more attuned to the queasyness of its affils and perhaps not have run the show at all.
He also wonders whether they would have backed the book on which the show is based if they were not also doing the TV special. "They needed all the pieces of the puzzle," he said.
A Fox network spokesman had no comment. A spokeswoman for the owned stations confirmed that they are all still planning to air the special.