Studios: Hold back nets' in-house programming

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It's not surprising that a coalition of independent program producers, TV
directors and actors wants the Federal Communications Commission to put a hold
on the big networks' lineups of in-house programming.

The big question is whether a new proposal to cap the network's share of
self-produced shows at 75 percent of prime time programming will gain any
traction in Washington, D.C.

With two sympathetic Democrats and an independent Republican on the
commission, there could be some grip to a fin-syn (financial-interest and syndication rules) retread.

On Thursday, the Coalition for Program Diversity will ask the FCC to limit the
amount of in-house programs during prime time.

"The narrow prime-time television-programming marketplace has become
dysfunctional as diverse sources of independently produced, non-network
programming have been eliminated or seriously compromised by the unregulated
major networks," the coalition said in a filing being delivered to the
FCC Thursday.

The aim, supporters said, is to reverse a trend that has forced producers of
syndicated programs to either go out of business or sign back-end agreements
that give networks generous syndication royalties.

Members of the coalition include Carsey-Werner-Mandabach, Sony Pictures
Television, ad agency MediaCom Worldwide and artist unions the Association for Television and Radio Actors, the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America.

Although reserving 25 percent of prime time for independents would do little
more than freeze the status quo, supporters of the idea said ending the decline
in independents' business would assure investors that new shows are worth backing.

Since the 1993 repeal of fin-syn -- which had
barred networks from owning financial stakes in the domestic syndication of
shows they air -- non-network producers' share of prime time lineups has dropped
from 68 percent to 24 percent.

The coalition said fin-syn's repeal has led to deterioration of programming
quality as networks produced in-house shows as cheaply as possible. Limiting
networks' share of self-generated product will ensure that viewers have access to some
measure of programming diversity, the coalition argued.

The coalition's request will be filed as part of comments due Thursday on the
FCC's review of media-ownership rules.

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