25 years ago: The deal heard around the world

25 years ago this week, Fox’s Rupert Murdoch changed the TV world by inking a deal to trigger the biggest affiliation switch in history. 

It goes back to what happened on December 17, 1993.

The networks were complaining about paying too much for sports – the NFL in particular – as the packages were losing money and looking to pay less in the next contract.

Enter Fox. The then-seven year old network best known for Bart Simpson, Al Bundy, and “90210”decided to jump in the bidding for the next NFL package. With a bid of $1.6 billion for NFC games from Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch over CBS, the NFL awarded the then-fledgling network the rights – stunning the broadcasting world, ending the Tiffany Network’s 38-year hold on the sport. Fox was willing to take a loss on the deal in order to build up its network, who expanded to seven nights a week in 1993.

Fox’s station lineup was made up of mostly UHF stations as during the analog era, didn’t have the same signal strength as VHF stations. And Fox was looking to upgrade its affiliate roster – not to mention keeping current affiliates in the fold and away from new offerings from Paramount and Warner Bros., who were starting up new networks as the fin-syn rules (which kept the studios from owning broadcast networks) were expiring.

Enter New World Communications, run by financial magnate Ronald Pearlman. The then-22 year old company produced movies and a few TV series, such as daytime soap Santa Barbara and The Wonder Years. In 1993, the company purchased a majority stake in SCI Television – billionaire George Gillett’s old station group, giving them control of six stations including CBS affiliates WJBK in Detroit, WAGA in Atlanta, and WJW in Cleveland. In May 1994, New World purchased the Argyle Television and Great American (formerly Taft) Broadcasting groups, with four stations each. New World also purchased another station, CBS affiliate WTVT in Tampa.

In negotiations that were kept secret, Fox announced on May 23, 1994 that it acquired New World. But then came the bombshell – as part of the deal, New World agreed to switch twelve of the fifteen stations it owned to Fox – eight of them belonging to CBS in a huge blow to owner Larry Tisch. Now, there have been affiliation switches before, i.e. Atlanta’s WSB jumping to ABC from NBC in 1980, Milwaukee’s WITI dropping top-rated ABC for CBS in 1977 in a contract dispute, or Miami’s WSVN losing NBC to WTVJ. But this was something on a whole new level – twelve stations switching to the same network – all at once.

The announcement shocked everyone in the business – particularly those who were affected by the changeover. New World’s local news operations went from working with one of the prestigious Big 3 networks to one with little history and known for more youthful programming. But New World believed this was the right thing to do – especially given how CBS wasn’t able to attract young viewers.

According to the book “The Fourth Network: How Fox Broke The Rules And Reinvented Television” by Daniel M. Kimmel, negotiations moved at a quick pace, and New World wanted compensation for losing network daytime programming (Fox didn’t program the daypart) with Fox agreeing to invest $500 million in the company and each agreed to produce syndicated programming for each other (which turned out to be the ill-fated Garbielle Cateris and Mark L. Walberg talk shows.)

New World Pictures, circa 1990.

The Fox affiliate meeting in June 1994 was not really a fun place to be. Instead of Fox running a victory lap (acquiring football and upgrading its affiliate lineup), existing stations were angry accusing them of a lack of loyalty, fearing their station could be next. Meanwhile, some industry observers were accusing CBS owner Larry Tisch of not stepping up to the plate to invest in New World when they had the chance.

The big three networks success of finding replacements were various: some were straight swaps as CBS and NBC quickly nabbed the former Fox affiliates in Cleveland and Kansas City; other markets such as Detroit, Tampa, and Phoenix had more complicated three-way swaps; and a few markets were just difficult – CBS wound up buying a low-rated UHF station in Detroit (WGPR), and nearly didn’t have an affiliate at all in Milwaukee as they made a last-minute deal with independent WDJT mere days before the December 11 deadline. The situation was even more dire in Birmingham, Ala. where ABC had to sign two stations to replace WBRC-TV (their switch didn’t take place until September 1, 1996.)

As the months wore on, the New World stations prepared for the switch with Cleveland first up September 3 and Kansas City September 12. Affected stations hired extra personnel to man phone lines to answer calls from confused viewers. Network stars such as David Letterman, Dan Rather, and Connie Chung pitched in to help cut promotional spots for new CBS affiliates.

Stations not involved in the swaps boosted their promotional budgets touting they were staying with the same network partner. Eventually, CBS being downgraded to UHF in a few markets took its toll as for one week in 1995, CBS finished fourth in overall viewers behind ABC, NBC, and Fox. The switches were complete by the fall of 1996, and ex-CBS stations who lost football were glad to have it back.

The Fox-New World deal even had an effect on markets who weren’t involved. The aforementioned Scripps-ABC deal and a CBS-Group W deal sent the three major networks to new homes in Baltimore (in the case of WBAL, back to NBC); speaking of the CBS-Group W deal, it had wide-ranging implications with 1995 affiliation switches in Boston, Denver, and Salt Lake City – not to mention CBS trading WCAU to NBC (with KYW going to CBS) in Philadelphia while in Miami, where NBC dumped longtime affiliate WSVN when it bought WTVJ-Ch. 4 in 1987 (the switch took place in 1989), CBS returned to the Ch. 4 position it occupied – as WFOR, knocking WTVJ to the weaker Ch. 6, formerly known as CBS-owned WCIX (the call letters are now used by a station in Champaign.)

By 1997, the major networks had grown tired of paying compensation to affiliates to carry their programming as costs surged, and Fox was no different. Rather than continuing to pay New World in comp, parent News Corp. decided to buy the 80 percent of New World it didn’t own, thus making New World stations Fox O&Os, giving them 22 stations covering a little over a third of the country (non-Fox New World stations in Boston and San Diego were sold off long ago.)

It was the acquisition of NFC Football that led New World’s stations to strike a deal with Fox. This is from Fox’s first NFL season from 1994, Fox Box and all. (Awful Announcing)

Since then, there has been major changes in the network-affiliate relationship with the balance of power shifting to the networks. The first example of this was in 2001, when NBC broke up with San Francisco’s KRON after it was outbid to buy the station, affiliating instead with San Jose station KNTV, now an NBC O&O. A year later, Jacksonville’s top-rated WJXT broke up with CBS over “reverse compensation”, a model pioneered by The WB and what all the networks were shifting towards. Networks were making demands with affiliates due to rising costs (such as the NFL and the cast of Friends‘ pay raises) and started limiting program pre-emptions. All of this while broadcast groups were seeing a rise in “retransmission consent”, i.e. cable and satellite companies paying stations to carry their signal. Soon after, the networks wanted a piece of that, too.

Since 2008, there have only been a handful of switches, in San Diego (twice), Boston (again), Raleigh, Indianapolis, Peoria, South Bend, and even Chicago involving The CWtwice (there was also an affiliation switch between Spanish-language networks in 1989.)

The television landscape is of course, far different today than it was in 1994; the advent of digital television put UHF and VHF stations on the same footing, though this hasn’t helped CBS stations in Atlanta, Cleveland, and Milwaukee, where their local news still trail their competitors by a large margin. CBS-owned WWJ in Detroit and ABC affiliate KDNL-TV once had news operations but were dismantled due to low ratings. And Fox’s standing has improved in numerous markets, including Atlanta, Cleveland, and New Orleans (where an affiliation deal with former ABC affiliate WVUE was made separately through a deal with the former SF Broadcasting.) Broadcasters’ eroding shares were an issue in the 1990s due to the expansion of cable and satellite TV and is an even bigger issue today, thanks to streaming services and DVRs.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped Rupert Murodch from making more earth-shaking deals. In 2001, he bought the Chris-Craft station group, the core of UPN, giving them duopolies in top markets such as New York, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis, adding UPN affiliate WPWR in Chicago a year later (UPN and The WB would later merger to become The CW.) In 2007, he sold some of the old New World stations to a new company called Local TV, who was swallowed up by Tribune. And recently, he sold the 20th Century Fox film studio to The Walt Disney Company for $71.3 billion, retaining only the Fox entertainment network, Fox News, Fox Sports, FS1, FS2, and the Fox O&Os to form a new company called Fox Corporation.

And CBS has been rejuvenated due to reacquiring the AFC packages of games in 1998, then bringing young viewers back to the network in 2000 thanks to the successful launch of Survivor, leading the network to return to the top of the ratings in total viewers with hits CSI, Everybody Loves Raymond, Two And A Half Men, The Mentalist, NCIS, and The Big Bang Theory. But the person who guided CBS to success – Les Moonves – was ousted recently due to a sexual harassment scandal.

As the business faces a whole lot of challenges in the 21st Century, it helps to look back at what helped shape the business today. Whether you love or hate Rupert Murdoch – and there are plenty of people in both camps – you have to give the man a lot of credit for taking chances no one else would make. Fox wouldn’t be where it is today if he hadn’t made any of these moves. And the industry is better off for it.

For a market-by-market breakdown of each New World market affected by the affiliation change, click here to go to T Dog Media’s Slideshare page.

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Marquee Sports hires McCarthy to run new network

Launch on track for February 2020

After hiring him as a consultant, the Chicago Cubs and Sinclair Broadcast Group announced Tuesday the hiring of Michael McCarthy as the general manager of the new Marquee Sports Network, scheduled to launch next February.

“We’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Mike and his proven ability to drive results over the past several months at Marquee,” said Crane Kenney, who is president of business operations for the Chicago Cubs. “With his combined sports and media background, Mike is the right person to bring our network online and deliver unprecedented Cubs coverage for our fans.”

The news comes as Sinclair recently won the bidding for Disney’s 21 regional sports networks for $10 billion.

McCarthy credentials are quite strong: he served as president of MSG Network, home of the New York Knicks and New York Rangers where during his tenure, won 75 Emmy Awards and instrumental in launching the careers of play-by-play personalities Gus Johnson, Doris Burke, and Mike Breen. McCarthy also was vice chairman and CEO of the St. Louis Blues and COO of the Milwaukee Bucks.

In a statement, McCarthy said: “I’m thrilled to be a part of the launch of the first independent regional sports network for the Chicago Cubs. The recent transformation of this iconic brand is incredibly impressive and the next big effort to better serve Cubs fans is the launch of Marquee. For years, I watched the Cubs become a nationally recognized brand. For that reason, I’m honored and intensely motivated by the confidence the Ricketts family, Sinclair and the Cubs have placed in me to add to the incredible broadcasting experience enjoyed by fans for the past 70 years.”

Barring any changes, Marquee will be the exclusive home of all non-Fox and non-ESPN Cubs games as the team’s contracts with ABC-owned WLS-TV, Tribune’s WGN-TV, and NBC Sports Chicago all expire at the end of this current season. It also likely means no more  over-the-air games on free TV.

So far Sinclair and Marquee have yet to strike any carriage deals with cable and satellite providers and has also yet to outline any streaming plans, but it’s early. But a glimpse of how the network would be run came Monday when Kenney in an exclusive interview with The Athletic said the team would likely have a more “hands-off” approach when it comes to Marquee, meaning Sinclair would basically have operational control of the network.

Marquee’s layout is similar to Charter’s Sportsnet LA, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ cable channel – pre and post game shows, an “all-access” magazine show, and replays of classic games. Let’s hope Marquee is available in more homes than SportsNet LA currently is, as the channel still doesn’t have any deals outside of Charter’s cable systems.

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Upfronts review: More legal dramas, less multi-cam laughs

Patricia Heaton (right) returns to TV in “Carol’s Second Act”. (CBS)

Also: fewer new shows

The 2019-20 season is going to be more dramatic and less comedic.

That’s the analysis of the five major network’s fall schedules, containing perhaps the fewest number of new shows in memory.

The major networks don’t really invest in pilots anymore, thus there are fewer programs to look at as replacements. Ratings aren’t really important as they used to be either, given we’re in a new era of streaming amid dwindling shares for broadcast television networks. This is one of the reasons why networks are slow to cancel programs in the first place – giving them more time to find their footing. For one, The CW rarely axes shows these days.

With that said, here are the trends to look for:

– In the 1990-91 season, there were 34 new fall shows spread out among four networks – and Fox had yet to expand to every night. By comparison, there are only 15 new shows spread out among five networks for the 2019-20 season – less than half of the number nearly thirty years ago. Quite a change in the streaming era.

– There are some new shows with some oddball concepts: you have a show featuring a baker falling in love with a supermodel (midseason entry The Baker And The Beauty); a sock salesman falling in love with his Nigerian nurse after a heartattack (Bob Hearts Abishola) and NBC’s Perfect Harmony, where a Princeton music professor helps out a small-town choir.

– Everyone wants to be in the legal profession: CBS has All Rise in a sort-of-reboot of L.A. Law, while an ABC midseason drama (For Life) has a prison inmate becoming a lawyer in prison so he can fight for his fellow inmates.

– Even though counter-programming is basically dead in the DVR/streaming era, one battle to watch is CBS’ Survivor and Fox’s Masked Singer airing opposite each other on Wednesday nights.

– Comedy is hard: there are numerous sitcoms inter weaving serious situations into the show – in addition to Bob, this list includes fellow CBS newbie The Unicorn (friends help deal with wife’s sudden passing) while NBC’s Sunnyside has a politician’s career going south after being busted for public intoxication and winds up being hired by undocumented immigrants.

– With The Big Bang Theory gone and the 1980s/1990s sitcom reboot craze all but kaput, once again the number of multi-cam sitcoms are at dangerously low levels. On the fall schedule, CBS has four and ABC just one, with none on NBC and Fox at all (though Will & Grace and Last Man Standing return midseason.) At this rate, look for multi-cam sitcoms to be extinct soon.

– And speaking of reboots, not a single new “retro” project is on the networks’ schedule, meaning this craze may be over with, thank God.

Will these new fall schedules generate any interest among viewers? Likely not, but it doesn’t really matter. As long as advertisers and media buyers continue to drop large sums of money to reach viewers – and over-the-air broadcast network television has the greatest reach of any medium outside of radio – then the network TV business will be fine, no matter what kind of junk they put on the air.

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“Dish Nation” renewed; “Millionaire” axed

Millionaire runs out of lifelines as game show comes to an end

(Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.)

Friday was the ultimate final answer for the fate of two long-running syndicated shows.

According to TVNewscheck, Dish Nation was renewed for an eighth season, taking the show through September 2020.

“Yeah eight seasons,” said Stephen Brown, Fox’s executive vice president of programming and development told TVNewcheck’s Paul Greeley in his Marketshare column. “We are kind of hitting that, ‘oh we are part of the fabric of your lives every day’. Which is a great thing, a great indicator for the longevity of the show.”

The series features morning radio personalities who “dish” on pop culture and celebrities. When Dish Nation originally premiered in 2012, it featured jocks from numerous cities, including Scott Shannon and Todd Pettengill of New York City’s WPLJ-FM (Shannon left WPLJ in 2014 and his former station was sold to EMF and is flipping to K-Love om June 1st.) After numerous format and personality changes, Dish now features Rickey Smiley from his Atlanta-based syndicated radio show and Frank Kramer and Heidi Hamilton, morning personalities from Cumulus’ KLOS-FM in Los Angeles.

Also appearing on Dish is Real Housewives of Atlanta’s Porsha Williams, who isn’t heard on Smiley’s radio show (she is currently on maternity leave.) Adding her was the right move as Dish received a not-too-friendly review from this site when it first premiered. But the series is entertaining if you’re into celebrity gossip and is a good distraction from the non-stop political stuff on other channels.

Keep in mind the material you see on Dish Nation isn’t heard on their respective radio shows.

Dish Nation has been a bit forgotten, given the series does not receive national Nielsen ratings and airs in a variety of  dayparts on 116 stations including all the Fox O&Os, including WFLD-TV here at 2:30 p.m. weekdays. But the show is doing well in the markets it airs in, such as Philadelphia where it airs in prime access (7 p.m.) on Fox-owned WTXF.

Of important note is Dish Nation is one of the shows Fox retained from the former Twentieth Television in the $71.3 billion sale of 21st Century Fox’s assets to The Walt Disney Company. Fox also plans to syndicate a new game show this fall 25 Words Or Less with former Who Wants To Be A Millionaire host Meredith Vieira.

And speaking of her former show, Millionaire was officially canceled Friday as expected, ending a seventeen-year run in first-run syndication and twenty years overall. Millionaire premiered on ABC on August 16, 1999 with Regis Philbin and was an instant hit, leading ABC to run the show three times a week. But when the series was upped to four times a week in the fall of 2000, viewers became tired of the show, and left the network on June 27, 2002.

At the same time, Buena Vista Television (now Disney-ABC) sold a syndicated version of the show featuring Vieira and became a decent, if not overall hit, spending ten years on WGN-TV’s daytime lineup (the series was originally sold to the CBS-owned stations including WBBM-TV, who aired Millionaire at 6 p.m. during the 2002-03 season.) The series underwent numerous host, station, and format changes over the years with Chris Harrison taking over as host in 2015, and relocated from the East Coast to Las Vegas a year later.

In recent years, the ABC-owned stations have been the group associated with Millionaire with WLS-TV finally airing the show last fall after years of holding out, albeit at 1:40 a.m. But on other ABC-owned stations, Millionaire and Right This Minute were expected to lose their time slots to Tamron Hall’s new syndicated talk show this fall, leaving both without a home. In the most recent ratings report, Millionaire placed a distant fourth behind Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, and Family Feud with a 1.6 household rating.

Right This Minute has been renewed for another season by Disney-ABC according to Broadcasting & Cable in a report Saturday on the ABC O&Os, but the show is likely to be stuck in overnight time slots on those stations. In an unusual syndication arrangement, WLS airs Minute at 2:05 am. while WCIU airs a different episode 25 minutes later at 2:30 a.m. It is not known if this arrangement would continue into next season.

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The CW trots out their 2019-20 lineup

Only three new series on schedule

Arrow and Supernatural set to end

Excluding retiring series (Jane The Virgin, iZombie, etc.), The CW once again renewed everything on its schedule from this season as ratings aren’t really a factor when determining the fate of CW programs. Three years ago in fact, CW did renew everything on the schedule.

For next season, even a little-watched reboot of Dynasty was picked up.

Why? Credit (or blame) Netflix as more viewers discover these shows through the popular streaming service. But beginning this fall, all three of The CW’s new series won’t be on Netflix at all as the network has decided to shop the streaming rights to other services in the open market, getting more value from those rights. Veteran CW shows on Netflix are not affected by the move.

But linear remain just as important to The CW as streaming does, whether if it is through Netflix or The CW App. In addition to three new fall series, The CW is moving their affiliation in Chicago from Fox-owned WPWR to Weigel-owned WCIU beginning September 1 and rebranded as “CW26”. WPWR was a CW outlet for three years, inheriting the affiliation from WGN-TV.

Onto the schedule: there are numerous schedule changes on CW’s schedule this fall.Let’s start with Sunday, where veteran Supergirl is paired with the new Batwoman for an all-female superhero night.

All American moves from Wednesdays to the lead-off position on Monday, followed by the third season of superhero drama Black Lightning. Tuesdays have both The Flash and Arrow paired back-to-back with the latter ending its run after next season.

Wednesdays have Riverdale followed by a new drama Nancy Drew, an update of the classic teen-sleuth mystery novels (ABC aired a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys mysteries show from 1977-79.)

Thursdays remain unchanged, though Supernatural is finally ending after fifteen years.

Charmed moves from Sundays to Fridays and is paired with Dynasty.

Being held for midseason is Katy Keene, which is a spin-off of Riverdale; In The Dark; Rosewell, New Mexico; and The 100, and of course, filler series such as Whose Line Is It Anyway?

For more details on The CW’s fall schedule, click here:

 

 

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CBS unveils 2019-20 lineup

Five new series on schedule; eight overall

In advance of its upfront presentation Wednesday, CBS announced its 2019-20 lineup with one major omission: The Big Bang Theory, whose long run concludes Thursday night as America’s Most Watched Network (TM) needs something.

Some familiar names are returning to CBS – Patricia Heaton (from Everybody Loves Raymond) and Billy Gardell (Mike & Molly) are starring in new sitcoms while former Luke Cage stars Mike Coulter and Simone Messick (All Rise) star in new separate dramas for the network.

The Neighborhood leads off Mondays followed by Bob Loves Abishola  (the show’s title does have a heart symbol in place of “loves”, which I can’t generate on this blog), featuring Gardell as a compression sock salesman from Detroit (yes, you heard that right) who falls for his Nigerian nurse after suffering a heart attack.

Coming up next is new drama All Rise, about the lives of people in the legal profession in Los Angeles – similar in a way to L.A. Law. Mondays close out with Bull, whose renewal was controversial given the actions of star Michael Weatherly – something not lost on critics at the upfronts.

While Tuesdays and Wednesdays remain unchanged, Thursdays see a complete overhaul, thanks to the depature of Big Bang. The night leads off with Big Bang spinoff Young Sheldon, followed by The Unicorn, a single-camera comedy about a group of tight-knit friends who help their friend get over the sudden death of his wife (yes, this is a comedy.)

After Mom comes Carol’s Second Act featuring Heaton as a woman who raises her kids, got divorced, and retires from teaching – and decides to pursue a new career as a doctor. This is followed by new drama Evil, featuring Coulter as a mystery being explored about the origins of evil along the lines of science and religion (whatever that means)

Fridays have two set-in-Hawaii crime dramas airing back-to-back: Hawaii Five-O an Magnum P.I., followed by Blue Bloods. In an ironic footnote, Tom Selleck – who stars in Blue Bloods starred in the original Magnum P.I. in the 1980s. Now the his reboot of his old series now leads into his current series – all on the same network.

Sundays remains unchanged, though CBS announced the end of Madam Secretary with a ten-episode final season.

Midseason entries include dramas FBI: Most Wanted (a spinoff of FBI), Tommy, and comedy Broke. Several veteran series are also returning in midseason, including MacGyver, Man With A Plan, The Amazing Race, Undercover Boss (!), and the final season (thankfully) of Criminal Minds.

Left off the schedule are recent midseason duds Million Dollar Mile and World’s Best – neither mentioned in CBS’ press release of programming next season. There is no word on their status.

For full descriptions of all the new shows and schedules, click here.

 

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ABC announces new 2019-20 fall schedule

Just six new shows for next season; four on fall schedule

Maybe it’s great Disney held its upfront presentation Tuesday touting its newly-acquired 20th Century Fox product and its full control of streaming service Hulu because ABC’s fall lineup isn’t really worth spending a lot of time discussing – because there isn’t much to discuss.

Only four new shows are on the fall schedule out of six overall. ABC officials say it reflects the stability of its schedule – where in reality, the network has been in fourth place for the last five seasons, and will likely remain there next season.

With Mondays unchanged, The Conners lead off Tuesdays followed by Bless This Mess (a sitcom who debuted last month), and leading into the new mixed-ish, a new series from black-ish creator Kenya Barris focusing on the show’s Rainbow Johnson in her pre-teen years. Yes, expect an Everybody Hates Chris/Young Sheldon type of vibe here. Following black-ish is new drama Emergence, about a police superintendent taking in a child who has no recollection of an accident that happened near her.

The only addition to Wednesdays is Stumptown, featuring How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders as a military veteran returning to Portland, Ore. as a PI with a complicated love life and gambling debts.

Thursdays remains unchanged while American Housewife shifts to Friday, paired with Fresh Off The Boat who still plans to feature Constance Wu with 20/20 filling out the rest of the evening.

Saturdays remain pat with college football (like a gazillion other cable sports networks) and Sundays sees some changes with Kids Say The Darnedest Things with Tiffany Haddish leading out of Funniest Home Videos. Of note is the series is produced by CBS, who aired previous versions with Art Linkletter and Bill Cosby respectively – one of the rare instances of a network producing for another (CBS did so before, producing Caroline In The City for NBC in the 1990s.) Come March, look for American Idol to reclaim the time slot, which was renewed for its third season last week.

Rounding out the evening on Sunday is Shark Tank and a relocated The Rookie, which at this point, should be renamed The Sophomore.

Midseason entries include The Baker And The Beauty, about a Miami baker dating a supermodel (this is a drama, not a comedy); For Life, about a lawyer who winds up behind bars and becomes a lawyer so he can fight for his fellow inmates; and United We Fall, a family-eccentric comedy.

For the entire fall 2019 schedule and detailed descriptions of all new shows, click here.

(Editor’s Note: Due to an editing error, the program description for Stumptown failed to post. It has since been added.) 

 

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Fox reveals 2019-20 schedule; “Empire” to end

No Jussie Smollett either

Perhaps the biggest takeaway of Fox’s 2019-20 fall lineup – the first full season under the new Fox Entertainment banner after being separated from its longtime studio – is the departure of Empire after next season.

The drama had drama of its own – courtesy of cast member Jussie Smollett, who was accused of staging a hate crime hoax January 29 in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood. The fallout led Empire to bench him for the last two episodes of this previous season. As Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier pointed out in a morning conference call, Empire has “no plans” on featuring Smollett this season – but he also said the writers have not gathered to map out the season yet.

Empire – who had ratings of near six in the 18-49 demo in its first season, is being put to bed in a long overdue move which saw ratings erode to the point where the series isn’t relevant anymore – even the controversy surrounding Smollett failed to boost the show’s ratings. 

As I said two years ago, nobody wants to watch an African-American version of Donald Trump in Lucious Lyon. As times change and storytelling has evolved, Empire has not.

With that said, Empire is shifting to Tuesday nights in the fall, following The Resident as the new Fox lineup is heavy on drama and sports, including football on Thursday and WWE Smackdown on Friday, a show returning to broadcast after nine seasons.

Mondays have 9-1-1 leading into a new drama Prodigal Son, featuring Tom Payne as the son of a serial killer who has made hunting killers his life’s work.

One big potential showdown brewing comes Wednesday nights with new hit reality competition show The Masked Singer opposite CBS’ Survivor, with its second season starting in the fall and its third season scheduled to launch February 4. Singer leads into new drama Not Just Me, a family drama with the logline: “An only child finds her life turned upside down when her father, a fertility doctor, reveals that, over the course of his career he used his own sperm to conceive upwards of a hundred children, including two new sisters. The three women form a unique bond.”

Sundays sees Animation Domination re-established with the new Bless The Harts in between veterans The Simpsons and Bob’s Burgers. Fox only released a vague description of the new animated series, about a broke Southern family who is rich in “friends, family, and laughter”.Voice talent include SNL veterans Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph.

In a statement, Collier notes “Today marks a new beginning for Fox Entertainment. So it is with a start-up mindset and, upon an incredible foundation of assets, that we deliver our first slate of new comedies, dramas and unscripted series. Alongside top creators and talent, and through innovative partnerships across the industry, we are redefining what it means to be an entertainment company, and what it means to be Fox, for 2019 and beyond.”

Fox also has a few series being held for midseason, the biggest being 9-1-1– spinoff 9-1-1 Lonestar, starring Rob Lowe and is set in Austin, Tex. (it is not known if the series is being filmed in the city.)  The new drama premieres on January 19, after 9-1-1.

Other series being held for midseason include The Orville and in a bit of a surprise, Last Man Standing – likely because there is no other compatible sitcom to pair it with (previous companion Cool Kids was canceled Friday.) New series for midseason are dramas Deputy, Filthy Rich, and neXt (no, it’s not about Steve Jobs’ ill-fated attempt at creating the neXt operating system); live-action comedy Outmatched; animated comedies Duncanville and The Great North, and reality competition series Ultimate Tag.

Overall, Fox has a solid first season in life without its namesake studio. Having football in primetime and wrestling on Fridays should bring male viewers to the network, where Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays should draw a good amount of female viewers. Can the “New Fox” work without the benefits of vertical integration? We shall see.

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NBC unveils 2019-20 lineup

Four comedies and four dramas highlight fall slate with a lot of midseason shows

(Editor’s note: An earlier draft of this post incorrectly stated there were eight new series on the fall schedule when there are only three. The other five are being held for midseason. T Dog Media apologies for the errors. – T.H.) 

NBC released its 2019-20 season schedule Sunday in advance of their upfront presentation on Monday, containing eight new series – four sitcoms and four dramas.

The network decided to hold back much of their slate until 2020, with only three new shows debuting this fall. A ton of returning shows are scheduled for midseason: Manifest, the final season of Blindspot, sitcoms Will & Grace and Brooklyn Nine-Nine and six returning reality-competition shows: America’s Got Talent: The Champions, American Ninja Warrior, Ellen’s Game of Games, Hollywood Game Night, The Wall, and World Of Dance.

Several new series are scheduled for midseason as well: Bring The Funny, Small Fortune, Songland (debuts May 28 of this year) and That’s My Jam. Scripted series include dramas Council Of Dads, Lincoln, and perhaps one of the most innovative series of the season, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. Comedies include Indebted and The Kenan Show, featuring SNL’s Kenan Thompson, who plans to continue with the sketch comedy series.

Though NBC did announce Friday they were cancelling I Feel Bad, the fates of bubble series Abby’s, A.P. Bio, The Enemy Within, The Village and The Titan Games are being decided at a later date, though there is a good bet most of these shows won’t come back.

Here’s the fall 2019 slate:

Mondays has The Voice followed by new drama Bluff City Law, about a family law business. Tuesdays are unchanged with The Voice, This Is Us (just renewed for three more seasons), and hospital drama New Amsterdam.

Wednesdays remain unchanged with Dick Wolf’s trio of Chicago shows.

NBC is maintaining in Thursday comedy lineup with two new entries: sandwiched in-between Superstore and The Good Place is Perfect Harmony, a sitcom about a Princeton music professor stumbling into a small-town church during choir practice and tries to “mentor them”. In-between The Good Place and the long-running Law And Order: SVU is Sunnyside, a comedy about a New York City politician whose career ends after being busted for public intoxication and winds up living with his sister and gets hired by a group of undocumented immigrants (or I think that what the plot is.)

Fridays has The Blacklist and two hours of Dateline NBC; Sundays has football of course, but in January, the Sunday slots will be filled by Little Big Shots with new host Melissa McCarthy; Zoey’s Extrodinary Playlist, about a woman whereas after an unusual event, she hears the wants and desires of people through her music; and the third season of Good Girls.

Overall, this is an average, if bland schedule for NBC who leads the other networks among adults 18-49. The one show of interest for sure is Zoey; unfortunately it is buried on Sundays where NBC has had trouble outside of football season. Maybe pairing it up with one of NBC’s successful mid-season series (i.e. America’s Got Talent: The Champions) would help?

To view the entire schedule and descriptions for all of NBC’s new shows, click here.

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Bubble Bustin’ Weekend: “Murphy Brown”, “Speechless” among shows canceled

Networks sweep out bubble shows ahead of next week’s upfronts

Once again – and as predicted in this space last December, the four major broadcast networks decided to cancel all of their “bubble” shows in a short time frame, leaving fans of some of these programs in lurch for as long as five or six months – a practice I railed against in two separate pieces in the last year.

While the number of shows canceled are down from last year at this time (so far), the headlines are still glaring, i.e. “Bloodbath: 14 Shows Canceled in 24 Hours” and Black Friday (which is really dumb, given the phrase is more associated with the day after Thanksgiving sales.) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: As broadcast television networks are struggling with declining audiences, these type of collusion-type stunts makes the industry looks bad as the network TV business continues to lose credibility, in a universe where their are way too many damn scripted TV shows.

Even worse, others (namely Netflix) are now taking their lead – cancelling shows without any rhyme or reason. Isn’t streaming supposed to be alternative to this?

It just proves big media conglomerates – Netflix included – do not give a damn about their viewers. It is as if Chicago politicians are now running the media business…or is that Rahm Emanuel’s next job?

With that said:

– As expected, CBS announced the cancellation of the Murphy Brown revival after one season. The sitcom aired its last episode in December, with only a thirteen-episode order for the season as Brown was the weak link on CBS’ Thursday night lineup. Also officially out is Happy Together (who also aired in last episode in December); midseason sitcom Fam; and in a bit of a shocker, single-cam comedy Life In Pieces after four seasons. It is not known if Pieces would be offered in syndication, but a cable sale is likely.

– ABC had the most series canceled, with five getting axed: Speechless, The Fix, For The People, The Kids Are Alright, and Splitting Up Together. The biggest story from Friday however was the surprise renewal of Fresh Off The Boat – sending series star Constance Wu in a rage for some strange (and funny) reason.

– Fox announced the cancellation of The Cool Kids, a show a lot of observers turned out better than it was pitched. Both Kids and Last Man Standing are being forced off of Fridays due to WWE Smackdown arriving in October, but Last Man was renewed and is expected to land on Tuesday night, paired with a new sitcom.

Also canceled was Passage and troubled action drama Lethal Weapon; earlier Fox canceled The Gifted and Love Connection.

But the biggest surprise is the cancellation of Lee Daniels’ mediocre musical drama Star after three seasons, ending on a cliffhanger. The series is reportedly being shopped to other outlets.

– NBC only canceled one show (I Feel Bad, which like a few others had its last airing in December), but surprisingly has yet to renew This Is Us.

– Also still on the bubble as of this writing is ABC’s Whiskey Cavalier, who debuted in a late-night time slot after the Academy Awards.

In addition to the above, NBCUniversal pulled the plug on Steve Harvey’s syndicated show Friday as noted here earlier; and the Victoria Secret’s Fashion Show is ending its long run as a holiday special due to low ratings.

Keep in mind all of this can change at a drop of a hat, so follow T Dog Media on Twitter @tdogmedia for the latest and keep it here for all the latest upfront coverage.

 

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“Steve” to end run

Steve Harvey’s daytime talk show canceled after seven years amid controversy

With numerous shows’ fates being decided this weekend before the upfronts (I’ll have a post up on this soon), there was one in particular that doesn’t air in prime-time but in daytime syndication – and it was one featuring Steve Harvey, whose show Steve won’t be back this fall, as first reported by Variety Friday.

The program taped its final show Thursday at Universal Studios, where it moved after five seasons in Chicago’s NBC Tower as Steve Harvey. The last original episode is set to air in June, with repeats continuing until September 6.

Ratings were actually decent – Steve ranked as the fifth-ranked talk show in syndication and averaged nearly two million viewers a day, but were declining year-to-year.

But it was a long-simmering tug-of-war between syndicator NBCUniversal and producer IMG, which may hold the key to why it was canceled.

Back in September, NBCUniversal signed Kelly Clarkson to launch a new syndicated talk show beginning in September 2019, taking over time periods occupied by Steve on ten of NBC’s owned-and-operated stations, including the 2 p.m. slot at WMAQ-TV here, leading into Ellen. NBCUniversal later announced it would no longer handle syndication for Steve at the end of this current season.

According to Variety, NBCUniversal officials were not happy about losing the ownership stake in the show as Harvey gained more creative control under IMG (who replaced Endemol Shine North America as the show’s production company) and received a higher salary. Harvey moved the program to Los Angeles to attract more celebrities – thus increasing production costs as for the most part, they were basically the B and C-list kind.

The decision to join forces with IMG was also a source of consternation. Harvey’s agent is William Morris Endeavor – who happens to own IMG, raising conflict-of-interest questions. Recently, the Writers Guild of America West and East told their 15,000-plus union members to sever ties with their agents over the use of packaging fees as the agents are repped by the four major Hollywood agencies under the Association of Talent Agents  whose companies (WME, UTA, CAA, and ICM Partners) now have financial stakes in several television shows… such as Steve. The Guild claims this is a conflict-of-interest.

Of note is Ari Emanuel – who is brother of outgoing Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel – is co-chairman of WME.

This would have been a huge problem if Harvey were a writer on own show, as most variety/comedy programs’ hosts also receive credit for contributing material to the writing staff, which Harvey does not do.

IMG’s lack of experience in distribution also resulted in the show’s demise as it found no takers for Steve.

The cancellation of Steve may be retribution for those in the Chicago creative community as Harvey opted not to renew his deal to produce the show here. When the show left Chicago two years ago, an e-mail obtained by Robert Feder claimed employees on Harvey’s show worked under draconian rules.

Steve’s cancellation does not affect his hosting duties for Debmar-Mercury’s Family Feud, where he will continue in that role. He also continues to host Celebrity Family Feud for ABC, The Miss USA pageant and a New Year’s Eve special for Fox, and his syndicated morning radio show, heard locally over V103 (WVAZ-FM).

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Media Notepad: Fan displays “white power” symbol during live Cubs telecast

Also: Extra doubles up on name and gets a new host; New York’s WPLJ ends run May 31; and more

In a bizarre incident captured on live TV Tuesday night during a Miami Marlins-Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field, a fan displayed what is known as a “white supremacist hand sign” during a live shot.

It occurred while Doug Glanville (pictured above) was reporting from the Cubs’ dugout for NBC Sports Chicago when a fan leaned into the camera behind him and displayed the an upside-down “OK” sign – which in recent years is a gesture for “white power.” It’s a symbol the alt-right has been using to display hatred.

In this thread from Twitter, a leader of a white supremacist organization in Las Vegas was seen giving the “OK” sign while he and a friend were screaming racial slurs in a viral video.

The fan’s action was swiftly denounced by the Cubs and NBC Sports Chicago. The person was identified and has been banned for life from the ballpark. Not surprisingly, some on social media and in comment sections defended the fan’s actions say it was a “silly childhood game” though it’s one I’ve never heard of.

Glanville, a former Cub outfielder who also played for the Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers, released a brief statement on what happened:

“Last evening, while I was providing live commentary during NBC Sports Chicago’s coverage of the Cubs-Marlins game on air, a fan used what appears to have been an offensive hand gesture that can be associated with white supremacy. I was made aware of what happened after the broadcast segment. The Chicago Cubs organization with the cooperation of NBC Sports is investigating this incident.

I applaud the responsiveness of both the Chicago Cubs organization and NBC Sports in investigating this matter. They have reached out to me and are supportive of my role in the broadcast and continue to have a desire to uphold an inclusive environment at Wrigley Field. They have displayed sensitivity as to how the implications of this would affect me as a person of color.

I am supporting their efforts in fully investigating the matter and I will comment further once the investigation is complete.”

In an even more bizarre twist, USA Today in a tweet misidentified the fan banned from the ballpark for life as… Theo Epstein.

The tweet was quickly deleted as Epstein was one of many in the Cubs organization denouncing the gesture: “The incident last night is truly disgusting. It gave me shivers to watch that, to see that take place at Wrigley Field. Appropriately, we’ve made clear how egregious and unacceptable that behavior is, and there’s no place for that in society, in baseball, and Wrigley Field. The person responsible for that gesture will never be welcomed back at Wrigley Field.”


Similar to WLUP’s demise last year – at the hands of the same entity no less – New York radio fans are lamenting the loss of WPLJ-FM when the station confirmed what many knew for months: WPLJ is ending its 48-year run on May 31 as it
flips to the K-Love Christian CHR format, thanks to its sale to the Educational Media Foundation.

The news generated significant media coverage in New York City, with all local stations, the New York Post and New York Times reporting on its demise.

WPLJ began as ABC Radio’s WJZ-FM and WABC-FM and evolved to Progressive Rock WPLJ in 1971 and became one of the most successful album-oriented rock stations. By 1983, WPLJ evolved into a contemporary hit radio station and right off the bat had competition from newly launched WHTZ-FM (Z100), as the two waged a spirited rivalry for New York City’s Top 40 audience. With the splintering of the CHR audience (and added competition from WQHT Hot 97), WPLJ evolved into a Hot AC format by 1991 and stuck with it since.

American Top 40 was also featured prominently on WPLJ during both Casey Kasem and Shadoe Stevens eras between 1984 and 1994, when ABC Radio stopped syndicating the show domestically.

ABC sold its radio group – including WLS-AM/FM in Chicago to Citadel in 2006, who later sold them to Cumulus, the current owner. Cumulus sold two stations in its New York cluster in February: WPLJ to EMF and country music station WNSH-FM to Entercom. Cumulus also sold Washington’s WRXQ-FM to EMF.

WPLJ was home to NYC’s longest-tenured morning team in Scott Shannon and Todd Pettennigill until Shannon left for crosstown rival WCBS-FM in 2014. Pettengill remained in morning drive, eventually getting a new co-host in 2015 with Jayde Donovan.

The shakeup comes as EMF has been buying up heritage stations across the country to expand its blueprint, as the non-profit company mainly relies on donations instead of commercials. In addition to WLUP, EMF has swallowed Shaw University’s WSHA-FM in Raleigh and recently, WFXF-FM (103.9 The Fox) in suburban Chicagoland.

Before the station closes its doors, WPLJ plans a reunion of station alumni currently being organized by Tom Cuddy, who was VP of programming of the station from 1990 to 2009 (and beforehand, a producer for AT 40.)


Guess who’s resurfacing from the gutter: Billy Bush – the former Access Hollywood co-host caught on tape talking to Donald Trump about women in derogatory terms, is back – hired by Warner Bros. Television Distribution to become the new host of Extra, and is adding an extra “Extra” to its name.

Beginning Sept. 9, Bush takes over as host of the new Extra Extra, as the series enters its 26th year. This is also the date the Fox owned-and-operated stations takes over as the primary station group of the show, replacing NBC who had a hand creating the original Extra when it launched in 1994.

In Chicago, Extra already moved to Fox-owned WFLD-TV in 2016 after NBC’s WMAQ declined to renew the show after 22 years in order to expand its afternoon newscasts. Extra currently runs at 3 p.m. and 11:35 p.m. This fall, sister stations WNYW in New York and KTTV in Los Angeles join WFLD in airing Extra Extra.

The series will also move to a new set leaving the outdoor studio at Universal behind and relocating to new digs in Burbank. As for current host Mario Lopez, he is expected to become co-host of Access (formerly Access Hollywood) and Access Live, replacing the recently-departed Natalie Morales.

As for Extra’s replacement on the remaining NBC O&Os carrying the show, there is still no word on a replacement. According to Broadcasting and Cable, a live true-crime series is being planned, but no information has been released. Even though NATPE is in the rear-view mirror, it’s never too late to launch a new syndicated show as on Monday, Trifecta Entertainment announced a new first-run courtroom strip called Protection Court, scheduled to debut this fall and is being produced in Miami.


Further reading:

A roundup of other media news from the last week:

In a terrific move, NBC Sports Chicago re-ups with David Kaplan to continue as host of Sports Talk Live. (Robert Feder)

WBBM-AM employees are demanding higher pay as their union contract with Entercom is up soon and are now under negotiation. (Sun-Times)

Best wishes to Kristen Nicole, who is exiting WFLD news to return home to Lexington, Kentucky. You can see her goodbye video here. (WFLD)

WMAQ/WSNS’ Diane Hannes receives a promotion as she becomes general manger of NBC’s WVIT and Telemundo’s WRDM in Hartford-New Haven. (Robert Feder)

ABC’s new Press Your Luck revival premieres June 12 at 7 p.m. Chicago time and is being hosted by actress Elizabeth Banks. Joel McHale meanwhile, will helm the Card Sharks revival.

HBO’s Game of Thrones continues to dominate Sundays while The Red Line sinks further. (Spotted Ratings)

And…Aaron Barnhart (of TV Barn fame) is back! (Primetimer)

For more, follow @tdogmedia on Twitter and Instagram.

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“Jeopardy!”: A case of a successful game show

A: This show has been a successful story for 35 years – even before Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer came on the scene.

Q: What is Jeopardy?

In 1983, King World was looking to pair something with its already red-hot Wheel of Fortune, an NBC daytime game show debuted in evening syndication and became a smash hit.

So they asked Merv Griffin Productions to come up with something and it was another NBC daytime staple he produced: Jeopardy! – a game show hosted by Art Fleming where contestants have to answer “in the form of a question”, airing from 1964 to 1975.

But the last syndicated run – a weekly show in 1974 at a time when most stations ran checkerboarded programming in prime access (6:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m.) i.e. a different show every night – wasn’t successful (the show lacked a few major-market clearances, including Chicago.) But a brand new five day-a-week strip hosted by game show veteran Alex Trebex – permed hair, mustache, and all – was successfully sold to stations at the 1984 NATPE convention, including ABC-owned WLS-TV in Chicago (ABC 7) where it was slotted at 3:30 p.m., replacing a low-rated afternoon movie.

And the rest was history.

James Holzhauer’s streak has brought the show back into prominence – although it never really left.

Jeopardy has been a ratings winner for ABC 7 for the last 35 years, leading into its successful early evening news block – then and now as the hubbub over James Holzhauer’s 22-game winning streak has boosted an already dominant news station in the ratings. According to the Chicago Tribune in a piece to “question” what many local fans have been asking (or complaining about) for decades (What is why Jeopardy airs in the afternoon) the program earned a 8.5 household rating on May 1, far and away the most-watched program at 3:30 p.m., coming close to the 9 and 10 household ratings numbers Jeopardy regularly put up in the 1980s and 1990s. And the show is even pulling even better numbers where it airs in prime access: for Buffalo CBS affiliate WIVB, Jeopardy has been scoring household ratings in the double digits, beating every prime-time show in the market.

Also helping ABC 7 is Holzhauer lived in the area in the 2000s – he’s an alum of Naperville North High School – an opportunity for WLS to showcase his local ties during its 4 p.m. newscast.

Nationally, a Holzhauer-fueled Jeopardy put the show at the top of the syndicated ratings chart for the week ending April 28 with a 7.5 household rating, up 12 percent from last week and its highest number since 2015.

For most of its run, Jeopardy was the second-highest rated game show strip behind Wheel and for local stations like ABC 7, became part of a powerhouse lineup feeding viewers into local news – a dominance WLS has to this day. When Jeopardy debuted, CBS-owned WBBM-TV was the market leader, with top-ranked newsteam Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson. But after ABC 7 hired Oprah Winfrey to host A.M. Chicago and wound up beating Donahue, it changed the local ratings game forever. With a murderers row of Oprah, Jeopardy, and Wheel, ABC 7 had its own version of NBC’s Must-See TV, who dominated primetime at the time. WLS’ lineup was so strong, it even beat NBC-owned WMAQ in the local primetime ratings at a time ABC lagged in third place.

Jeopardy even survived being downgraded to 2:30 p.m. for two years to accommodate Katie Couric’s ill-fated syndicated talk show, via corporate mandate from Disney and ABC. Ratings in the 3 p.m. time slot plummeted, reaching lows not seen in 35 years and was often beaten by Ellen. Jeopardy moved back to 3:30 p.m., but only after Katie’s contract expired.

Jeopardy, host Alex Trebek from the series’ first season. Courtesy: ABC/Everett Collection

Jeopardy boosted the bottom lines of local stations – so much so Capital Cities/ABC – after seeing how much the show did for its WABC in New York City when it moved the show from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in early 1987, nabbed the show and Wheel for its KABC in Los Angeles and KGO in San Francisco in 1992 – the latter coming after the previous station (then-NBC affiliate KRON-TV) dropped the shows in order to shift NBC’s prime-time lineup earlier – something King World objected to since Jeopardy and Wheel were airing from 7 to 8 p.m. Now syndicated by CBS Television Distribution (as a result of CBS acquiring King World in 1999) and produced by Sony Pictures TV (who acquired Merv Griffin Enterprises parent Columbia in 1989), Jeopardy now airs on all of ABC’s eight owned-and-operated stations.

In recent years, media consolidation has led for stations to become more cost-conscious. A few years ago, Scripps’ local stations such as WEWS in Cleveland and WCPO in Cincinnati dropped Wheel and Jeopardy from their schedules in a cost-cutting move in order to air more in-house efforts, such as The List. And as you’ve guessed, ratings plummeted in the time slot.

Despite this, Jeopardy continues to perform terrifically for stations  – even before Holzhauer’s streak as the game show has always been in the top five. Ratings are expected to cool off a bit due to Jeopardy’s two-week Teacher’s Tournament, but Holzhauer will be back on May 20, trying to extend his streak and building on his $1 million-plus and counting warchest and has Ken Jennings’ 74-game winning streak in sights, a ratings sensation in its own right.

And adding to its accolades, Jeopardy has won 33 Daytime Emmy Awards for Best Game Show and a Peabody Award, with Trebek winning six awards (including one Sunday night) for Outstanding Game Show Host.

Jeopardy has been renewed through 2023, but Trebek’s deal only runs through 2022 as the 78-year old host was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. However, Trebek vows to continue hosting the show and he told fans in a recent video it is so far, so good.

While the ratings surge can be attributed to Holzhauer’s streak, once it ends (whenever that is), Jeopardy will remain at the top of its game as its own streak of being one of syndication’s top shows – 35 years and counting – is still going strong.

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SInclair wins battle for Fox’s RSNs

The Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokoumnpo is the star attraction of Fox Sports Wisconsin, who carries the team.

Sinclair is the winner in auction; pays $10 billion for 21 Fox RSNs including Fox Sports Wisconsin 

The long national nightmare is over: after months of being on the sales block, the Fox Sports RSNs (regional sports networks) finally have a new owner.

Sinclair Broadcast Group announced Friday it is buying the 21 sports networks and three Fox Sports College Networks from The Walt Disney Company for $9.6 billion. Sinclair is forming a new subsidiary to acquire the RSNs called Diamond Sports Group. A major investor in the new venture is Byron Allen, who is President and CEO of Entertainment Studios, who owns several cable networks such as The Weather Channel, Justice TV, and Comedy TV and a syndicator who distributes programming to local stations such as Funny You Should Ask.

Sinclair currently is a partner in the Cubs’ new Marquee Sports Network; diginet Stadium (seen locally over WJYS Ch. 62.2); Tennis Channel; and Ring of Honor Wrestling.

The deal includes Fox Sports Wisconsin, home to the red-hot Milwaukee Bucks and Milwaukee Brewers and secondary coverage of the Minnesota Wild on overflow channel Fox Sports Wisconsin Plus. Also included in the deal is Fox Sports Midwest (home to the St. Louis Blues and Cardinals), Fox Sports Indiana (Pacers and Fever), Fox Sports Detroit (Tigers, Pistons, Red Wings) and sixteen others.

In all, the deal includes rights to fourteen MLB teams,sixteen NBA teams, twelve NHL teams, and several MLS and WNBA teams.

Not included in the deal is the New York Yankees’ YES Network, who the team re-purchased, but Sinclair, Amazon, and The Blackstone Group each hold a minority interest.

Disney acquired the Fox RSNs as part of a $71.3 billion deal acquiring much of 21st Century Fox. But the Justice Department ordered Disney to divest the networks because of their dominance of the sports cable market with ESPN.

Milwaukee Brewers games air on Fox Sports Wisconsin, which Sinclair is buying.

“This is a very exciting transaction for Sinclair to be able to acquire highly complementary assets,” said Sinclair president and CEO Chris Ripley. “While consumer viewing habits have shifted, the tradition of watching live sports and news remains ingrained in our culture. As one of the largest local news producers in the country and an experienced producer of sports content, we are ideally positioned to transfer our skills to deliver and expand our focus on greater premium sports programming.”

It is not known yet what the current Fox Sports RSNs would be re-branded as; it’s unlikely Sinclair would keep the Fox Sports name.

Sinclair plans to use their vast 170-plus station stable as leverage in negotiating carriage deals with cable and satellite deals. Major markets where Sinclair would own an RSN and local station include Minneapolis-St.Paul, St. Louis, Nashville, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Grand Rapids, and West Palm Beach. It was this kind of  leverage Sinclair could obtain that rose the eyebrows of The American Cable Association, whose Matthew Polka in a statement opposed the deal:

“ACA Connects opposes Sinclair’s proposed purchase of the Disney-Fox regional sports networks (RSNs) for the same reason it opposed Sinclair’s failed attempt to buy Tribune’s television stations — if approved, the transaction would allow Sinclair to raise prices to millions of consumers, including those served by ACA Connects members.

“Big 4 broadcast network programming and RSN programming are both critical for ACA Connects members. By jointly negotiating these assets when they serve the same market, Sinclair can raise prices to cable operators for both offerings.

“It is one of the reasons that the Federal Communications Commission imposed conditions on the Comcast/NBCU merger and that Sinclair’s proposal to combine Tribune’s network stations with its own ran into severe regulatory trouble, causing Sinclair-Tribune to pull the deal.

“And it is why we expect antitrust regulators to reject Sinclair’s proposed acquisition of Fox regional sports networks as well. We look forward to making this case at the appropriate time.”

Anti-trust fears led Comcast and the new Fox Corp. to pass on bidding on the RSNs, mainly because like ESPN, both own a national sports cable network with wide reach, where as Sinclair’s Tennis Channel and Stadium’s is far lower. The Justice Department would certainly look at these issues, but in reality, Sinclair does not face the same problem other companies had in acquiring the RSNs.

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US99 drops Stylz & Roman’s morning show

Stylz & Roman with former “Saved by the Bell” star Tiffani Thiessen.

Low ratings force former B96 duo to depart

It is the end of the line for Stylz & Roman, whose morning show at country station WUSN-FM (99.9) aired its final episode today, as reported by Robert Feder.

No replacement was immediately announced.

Even though the duo beat the syndicated Bobby Bones on rival WEBG-FM (Big 95.5), the morning show was among the lowest-rated among Entercom’s cluster of six stations in the Chicago market, as Feder noted. Stylz & Roman only ranked eighteenth, compared to Bones’ 25th.

The move by then-owner CBS Radio in 2016 to shift the former B96 (WBBM-FM) afternoon personalities to morning drive at US 99 stunned the market, as Stylz & Roman had a background in CHR radio. Some defended the move, noting syndicated host Bones had a background in the same music format (Bones is a “mentor” on the current season of American Idol.) Stylz & Roman (Doug Bobrowski and Justin Roman) were interns at B96 before moving to evenings and later, afternoons.

In 2017, Entercom bought CBS Radio, including US 99 and installed Jimmy deCastro as market manager. Even though ratings were strong at first, they leveled off in recent months.

On Twitter this evening, the duo thanked their loyal listeners:

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