When Lucie Salhany was named chairman of Fox Broadcasting in 1993, she was the first woman to hold that post. While she was there, Fox expanded to a seven-day schedule and landed its first-ever deal to air the NFL. Salhany resigned a year later to become the president and CEO who put UPN on the air in 1995. She left in 1997. Today, she's managing partner of Echo Bridge Entertainment, which distributes content worldwide from headquarters in Boston, but she keeps her eye on her old shops. Just hours after the announcement that UPN and The WB would meld into one new network—The CW—she spoke with B&C's P.J. Bednarski.
You must be riveted by news of the merger.
Well, we tried to merge with The WB, too, but we couldn't because, at that time, UPN was [half] owned by Chris-Craft and there was no way. We even talked about, 'You get one market, we get another,' but we just couldn't work it out.
There are some obvious winners, but Fox's UPN stations seem to have been the hardest hit.
The loser is Fox, big time. Fox will have to start producing programs for those channels. But you know, it's late. It's very late. It's [almost] February. To get programs produced for next fall is tough, and it's tough to make them [financially viable] because they'd have to get them ready to sell internationally to help offset the costs.
I always get the feeling Rupert Murdoch has a smarter idea. What about a second Fox network?
Fox could start another network, Fox II, and put it on the nine UPN stations Fox owns and on DirectTV for the rest of the nation. But I don't know if Nielsen could compile ratings on that. There just aren't enough markets for them to create a viable national network.
What would Fox II look like?
Murdoch could pull some programming off of FX. Can he bring The Shield and shows like those? I don't know. He can bring some [programming] over from Fox, the network. He can do that. Absorb all of the development costs at the Fox network level, the way CBS did with UPN. That's what Warner's couldn't do, but CBS did it. They absorbed most of those development costs. So if Murdoch did that, and put it on Direct, he could do something. But still … he got caught short. They're going to take a financial hit, whatever they do.
What about the smaller players who won't be chosen to be part of The CW?
If you're not part of a big group, you're done. You have a major problem.