“New Fox” passes on Disney RSNs

New entity not interested in reacquiring regional sports networks

In a setback for Disney, “New Fox”, the entity formed after the bulk of the original 21st Century Fox was sold to the company, said in a filing Friday it has no plans to re-purchase the 22 regional sports networks, or RSNs put up for sale as part of the deal.

In the SEC 8-K filing, New Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch confirmed in a statement, “In connection with these preliminary discussions, Fox confirms that it does not intend to bid for any of the Fox regional sports networks that Disney (or any entity operating on its behalf) may sell as required by the consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice.”

The Fox RSNs, which includes The Yankees’ YES Network, and RSNs in Michigan, Missouri, Indiana, and Minnesota among others, had to be sold as part of the deal with the Justice Department’s decision to sign off of the Disney-Fox merger.

With much of the film studio and production company sold to Disney, “New Fox” will consist of Fox Broadcasting, Fox News, Fox Business Channel, the Fox owned-and-operated stations (including Chicago’s WFLD and WPWR), Fox Sports, FS1 and 2, and the Big Ten Network.

One of the reasons why Fox passed on the RSNs may be due to the networks being a “slow-growth business” as more emphasis is being placed on streaming as more and more viewers are cutting the cable cord.

With Fox dropping out, it leaves very few options for Disney as rival media companies are passing on the networks due to the same anti-trust concerns. According to several reports, only Sinclair Broadcasting is left as a possible suitor, who may have to partner with private equity firms to pull off the purchase.

Sinclair has been mentioned as a possible partner in the new Cubs’ RSN, and according to reports the new network is to be named Marquee. But the team has refused to comment on the matter, leaving many in the dark on what would happen come 2020.

While the RSNs provide live, local sports programming – something advertisers want, they lack the popularity of the NFL, whose games are broadcast by NBC, CBS, Fox, and ESPN as the popularity of the other sports leagues don’t even come close. Also, ratings for RSNs are cynical, depending on how teams are faring. Ratings for NBC Sports Chicago’s three teams they re-upped for – the Bulls, Blackhawks, and White Sox all declined in 2018 as each teams finished at or near the bottom of the standings. And with the popular Cubs out of the mix, it would be tougher for NBC Sports Chicago to gain any ratings traction even if the three teams improve.

Plus, several MLS teams are shunning RSNs for streaming deals, such as LAFC, the Chicago Fire, and more recently, D.C. United, as they opted for a deal with new streaming service FloSports. Those teams believe their younger-skewing fanbase are adopting streaming instead of paying for a cable subscription. United co-owner Jason Levien told the Washington Post: “[P]hilosophically, we don’t believe just putting live games up is the best way to drive engagement. There’s too much else to watch. We believe you have to create context. We charge a premium because we promise to build context. The fans are going to know why they are watching. We know it’s a little bit of a premium — we are unapologetic about it because the goal is to offer the best value for that specific fan.”

Given this, it is clear the allure of the regional sports network has faded amid changing fan and consumer tastes.

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Clubsteppin’ becomes first local station to drop R. Kelly’s music

Move comes as controversies surrounding singer heats up

The first local shoe to drop in the ongoing R. Kelly saga is a “rimshot” radio station.

Clubsteppin’ 95.1 – a new Urban Adult Contemporary station who launched last August, announced Thursday it is removing R. Kelly’s music from their playlist in light of allegations surrounding the singer’s alleged abuse against women, raised to a higher level by Lifetime’s six-hour docuseries Surviving R. Kelly.

The news was reported Friday by the Chicago Tribune.

As documented by the Tribune, station CEO Lamont Watts spoke to fans of the station on Facebook and Instagram: “As a leader of a team where women contribute unselfishly, in a business where the majority of our audience is women; as a son, a brother and a husband of a devoted family; and to hear and see the pain and suffering that is real for so many, effective immediately, we will no longer play the music of R. Kelly.”

Based from his internet radio station Clubsteppin.com, Watts struck a deal last summer to bring his format of 1970s and 1980s step dance music (commonly known as ‘steppin’) to Windy City Broadcasting’s translators W236CF in Chicago and W236CG in Bolingbrook, fed by WLEY-HD2 (107.9). Those translators appear on a “rimshotter” station (95.1 FM) reaching Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs, where the majority of the area’s African-Americans population resides and competes with iHeart Media’s V103 (WVAZ) and Crawford’s Soul 106.3 (WSRB). Clubsteppin’ is the eighth radio station in the Chicago market targeting African-American audiences at a time when the market’s black population is declining. 95.1 FM in the Chicago area is split with another “rimshotter” station – active rocker WIIL-FM, who serves Chicago’s northern suburbs and southern Wisconsin.

“Clubsteppin” launched on 95.1 FM via two radio translators in August 2018.

Shortly after its launch last August, Clubsteppin’ picked up The Tom Joyner Morning Show after Soul 106.3 dropped it for a new local morning program. Joyner removed Kelly’s music from his syndicated show last year.

Watts’ station joins several Urban and Urban AC outlets around the country who have eliminated R. Kelly’s music from their playlists. As reported here on Thursday, two Dallas and an Atlanta station removed Kelly earlier in the week, with WBLS-FM New York and Stevie Wonder’s KJLH-FM in Los Angeles, doing so even earlier – all are independently owned.

A tipster to T Dog Media’s Twitter feed also noted Urban AC station WJMR in Milwaukee quietly dropped Kelly’s music six months ago. WJMR is owned by Saga Communications, a mid-sized radio chain who owns other stations in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, and several other states.

But the majority of Urban and Urban AC stations in the country are owned by huge radio conglomerates such as Cumulus, Urban One, Entercom, and iHeart Media – the latter also owns Urban Contemporary WGCI-FM while Entercom owns WBMX-FM (104.3 Jams). None of those local stations – including Crawford’s Power 92 (WPWX) and Soul 106.3 – have still not commented publicly.

This comes as significant developments took place this week involving the disgraced R&B star. A protest took place Wednesday night outside of Kelly’s West Loop recording studio – now being investigated by city officials for possible zoning violations. The same night, Kelly was spotted at a club in the city’s Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood after-hours, performing one of his signature hits, “Bump ‘n’ Grind”. Police were called to the club, but no arrests were made. Kelly’s lawyer on Friday stated he was innocent of all allegations at a raucous press conference.

On Friday, a report of Kelly holding women in a cult against their will at his Trump Tower apartment was proven to be false, according to Chicago Police.

As Clubsteppin’ is the latest independently-owned radio station to bail on Kelly, major radio chains are taking a “wait and see” approach. But with the controversies continuing to grow, can they afford to?

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“Surviving R. Kelly” docuseries puts black radio stations in a bind

Outrage over R. Kelly’s sexual misconduct grows

In a move similar to what Detroit’s WMGC-FM (Bounce 105.1) did with Kanye West after his comments on slavery last spring, a pair of radio stations in Dallas and one in Atlanta have announced it would no longer play any music performed by R. Kelly on their airwaves in wake of last week’s controversial Lifetime documentary on the famous R&B singer.

But unlike the Detroit station, who returned West’s music to rotation after only a few days in what was likely a publicity stunt, this time it’s going to stick.

Two Dallas radio stations – KRNB-FM and KKDA-FM announced it has removed R. Kelly’s music from its playlists. They were joined by WAMJ-FM in Atlanta and two other stations: WBLS-FM in New York City and KJLH-FM in Los Angeles (owned by Stevie Wonder) both removing his music well before the documentary aired. Tom Joyner announced in an on-air radio interview with MeToo founder Tanara Burke last year he would no longer play R. Kelly’s music on his syndicated show, also based in Dallas.

As classified by Nielsen’s BDS, KRNB is a Urban Adult Contemporary station; KKDA-FM has an Urban Contemporary format. Both are owned by Service Broadcasting Corp., one of the few independently-owned stations left in radio.

The controversial documentary featured numerous women who claimed they were sexually assaulted and abused by the Chicago-born singer, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Jim DeRogatis investigated the claims of sexual abuse for the paper back in 2000, and continued for years. In 2008, Kelly was acquitted on child pornography charges after allegedly having sex with a 14-year old on tape in a decision stunning many observers.

Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly reached 18 million total viewers over three nights with numerous airings over Lifetime and Lifetime Movie Network.  Last Thursday, the docuseries drew a 0.9 rating in the adult 18-49 demo, beating programming on ABC and Fox and is likely to finish as the top entertainment show among African-Americans for the week. The docuseries also drew considerable social media response; #SurvivngRKelly and related hashtags dominated social media on Thursday and Friday nights.

For the Dallas stations, it was a clear cut decision. Claudia Jordan, a former model, TV star (Deal or No Deal, Real Housewives of Atlanta) and co-host of The Rickey Smiley Show told the audience on her KRNB morning show she co-hosts with Rudy Rush the reason why the station decided to stop playing Kelly’s music as documented by Complex: “Up against the background of what we know…. Where there were girls actually locked up in rooms and urinating in buckets and held against their will, even if they were over 18, (Kelly’s music) just has a different meaning now. I just feel like, in good conscience, we just can’t continue to support this guy. Sadly there are a lot of people out there and what they do in their work—they are talented people—but they have demons. And I feel like as a woman that is an advocate for other women.… We cannot support this man anymore. I’ve been a victim of abuse from a man, and it wasn’t as extreme as this. But reading all the comments, we have to at some point take a stance.”

Over at sister station KKDA on her morning show, former Chicago radio personality Dee Dee McGuire said: “I’m glad that radio is taking that stance. Radio has always played a major role in the black community… That goes back to the civil rights movement. We have to take care of our own. If the courts won’t take care of [Kelly] in terms of punishing him, then we’ll stop playing his music as punishment.”

On Monday, former “Deal Or No Deal” model Claudia Jordan announced on her Dallas morning radio show she co-hosts with Rudy Rush that her station would no longer play R. Kelly’s music.

While the five radio stations mentioned ended their association with Kelly, it helps to note these are independently-owned. Most radio stations serving the African-American community are owned by conglomerates Cumulus, Urban One (formerly Radio One), Entercom, and iHeartMedia. As this blog noted last spring, consolidation in radio over the last two decades have led to more and more playlist decisions taken out of the hands of local station mangers and into those of national programmers.

In Chicago, iHeartMedia owns Urban AC WVAZ-FM (V103) and Urban Contemporary WGCI-FM; Entercom owns Classic Hip-Hop WBMX-FM (104.3 Jams) and Denver-based Crawford Broadcasting owns Urban Contemporary WPWX-FM (Power 92) and Urban AC WSRB-FM (Soul 106.3) – all have played some variation of Kelly’s music; in fact, WGCI was instrumental in the rise of R. Kelly in the first place. So far, none of these stations has publicity commented on Kelly or announced any plans to pull his music. However, one Chicago radio personality (Angi Taylor of Kiss 103.5) appeared at an anti-R Kelly protest Wednesday night at his West Loop recording studio. WKSC is a sister station to both WGCI and V103.

Both WGCI and Power 92 have been targeted in the past from community activists over music content. Several organizations have urged iHeart and UrbanOne to remove Kelly’s songs from their playlists.

Since the documentary aired, the Cook County State’s Attorney is urging anyone who was abused by Kelly to come focused, as Atlanta-area prosecutors have done likewise as he is accused of holding women against his will in a cult in Georgia. And already, there is an after-effect: ABC’s new sitcom Schooled pulled an R. Kelly song from Wednesday’s premiere episode. And the Chicago Tribune’s and Chicago Sun-Times’ editorial boards have weighed in, with the latter urging Kelly should be “muted”, as in #MuteRKelly” trending on Twitter.

Whether this latest controversy over Kelly affects his radio airplay remains to be seen. Even though the number of stations bailing out on Kelly is growing, keep in mind there is a significant amount of people who still support the disgraced R&B superstar, especially in his native Chicago as the saga has deeply divided the area’s African-American community. Local radio programmers know this as the controversy surrounding Kelly isn’t going to end anytime soon and any decision to drop Kelly from the airwaves won’t be an easy one.

(Editor’s note: An earlier draft of this story incorrectly stated R. Kelly’s full name.)

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D.C. programmer joins iHeartMedia Chicago

Howard hopes to take cluster to new level

There isn’t much going on in D.C. these days with the government shutdown, but one radio programmer is hoping to inject some excitement in the Chicago radio scene.

As first reported by Radio Insight last week, iHeartMedia Chicago has hired James Howard to become Senior Vice President of Programming for the six-station cluster and additionally, taking on duties as program director for Top 40 WKSC-FM (Kiss FM 103.5). Howard will report to Matt Scarano, who is iHeartMedia’s Chicago Market Manager.

Howard is coming over from iHeartMedia’s Washington D.C. cluster, where he was also Vice President of Programming. He replaces Tommy Austin in the role, who is heading to its national programming group.

In his sixteen years at iHeartMedia/Clear Channel, Howard has held programming positions in several markets, including Atlanta and Orlando. In Washington, three of iHeartMedia’s stations rank in the top ten. “James Howard has a winning track record,” said Scarano in a press release. “His breadth of knowledge, leadership and programming creativity will be a tremendous asset to our team.”

Howard is joining the cluster whose performance is mixed at best. While WKSC is beating longtime rival WBBM-FM (B96), the station only ranks twelfth in the market amid an ongoing creative slump in the Top 40 format right now. And given Howard’s experience as a rock programmer, there is already speculation surrounding the future of low-rated country music station WEBG-FM (Big 95.5.)

Other iHeartMedia stations in Chicago include top-rated urban adult contemporary WVAZ-FM (V103); urban contemporary WGCI-FM; adult contemporary WLIT-FM (The Lite); and gospel WGRB-AM.

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Broadcast networks to carry President Trump speech Tuesday night

Despite criticism of their news organizations.

For the first time since he’s taken office, President Donald Trump is giving a speech to the nation Tuesday night at 8 p.m local time on the issue of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. All the broadcast networks – especially CBS, NBC, and ABC announced Monday they would carry the speech, despite much hesitation. Fox Broadcasting, PBS, and locally, WGN-TV are also expected to carry the speech.

The move, of course was panned on social media by TV critics and others.

The four broadcast networks have new programming scheduled for Tuesday night at 8 p.m. – as of this writing, it is not known how those programs would be impacted.

You’d think after the President criticized the news divisions – especially those of the broadcast networks’, referring to them as “fake news” and “enemy of the people”, you think they would tell the President to take a hike, right?

Might want to think again. It’s far more complicated than that.

For one, even though a sitting President cannot force networks to carry any speeches, there is something called “public interest” they have to adhere to. Remember, the broadcast networks are carried by affiliates who are licensed by the FCC to use spectrum to beam pictures onto your fifty-inch Samsung TV at home. And those affiliates are a part of station groups who belong to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), a lobbying organization whose been pushing Congress for decades to deregulate the industry – something Republicans have long supported.

For example, the station groups and the NAB have long advocated for the loosening and/or elimination of the station ownership cap, which stands at 39 percent coverage. With a Republican administration more sensitive to their needs than Democrats, they don’t want to… let’s say “upset the apple cart”.

Also, the group known for right-wing commentary on its local newscasts – the infamous Sinclair Broadcasting, has ties to the Trump administration. My guess is if the broadcast networks they were affiliated with didn’t carry the speech, they would, pre-empting programming in the process. I believe Sinclair – and other station groups (such as Nexstar, Tegna, Tribune, etc.) pressured them to carry his speech – there is too much at stake for them in their deregulation agenda not to. Keep in mind President Trump was in support of the Sinclair-Tribune deal before it fell apart and was upset when the FCC didn’t approve it.

It goes to show you how powerful these groups are with the networks – and the affiliate-network relationship isn’t exactly great. Last spring, Sinclair complained about the broadcast networks they’re affiliated with carrying “liberal propaganda” in the form of network newscasts and late-night talk shows – not to mention some prime-time programming. It’s an issue I brought up last spring here and is rooted in history as during the 1950s and 1960s, many Southern network affiliates – notably WLBT in Jackson, Miss. refused to carry programming featuring any African-American actors and blacked out news stories on the civil rights movement, pretending it was “cable trouble” as the station manger said the networks were promoting “Negro propaganda”. As late as 2009, an ABC affiliate in Macon, Ga. dropped the network over “objectionable programming”.

But rather than complain, the best way to deal with President Trump’s fake “national emergency” is to not tune in. But I know you will, and you’ll let me know how you feel on my Twitter feed, which you do everyday anyway. All I know is when it comes to the broadcasting industry, some communities’ “public interest” matters more than others – especially when a Republican administration is involved.

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Bears loss doesn’t clank in ratings (updated)

Thrilling game proves to be a ratings hit – Golden Globes less so

(Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new ratings information.)

Despite the odious outcome, the NFC Wild Card Game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears was a ratings success for NBC and the NFL.

The Bears hosted their first playoff game since the 2010 season at Soldier Field amid a frenzied and fun atmosphere. But the game was less fun for Bears fans – the team struggled throughout much of the afternoon against the defending Super Bowl champs as quarterback Nick Foles led the Eagles to what turned out to be a game-winning drive. The Bears produced a late fourth quarter drive of their own, but kicker Cody Parkey – who missed five field goals this season – hit the upright and doinked off the yellow bar, crushing Bears’ fans hopes and ending their season.

In all fairness, the failed field goal attempt was actually blocked (or tipped) by the Eagles’ Treyvon Hester, as he got a hand on it as the NFL acknowledged so Monday.

According to Nielsen, the game drew an overnight household rating of 22.6, the highest number for an NBC game since the peacock network returned to the football business in 2006, and the highest Wild Card game on the network since January 9, 1994 when the then-Los Angeles Raiders beat the Denver Broncos at the L.A. Coliseum 42-24, drawing a 23.3 rating. Prior to 2016 when the new league contracts took effect, NBC had not had rights any playoff games since 1998.

Overall, the game drew a whopping 35.9 million viewers – the highest for any non-Super Bowl on NBC since the 1998 AFC Championship game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs. Another 533,000 viewers streamed the game from NBCSports.com. It was the eighth most-watched Wild Card playoff game on record since 1988.

In Philadelphia, the game over WCAU drew a 44.6/66 (share) in households – up tremendously from the 37.8 rating for last year’s divisional Eagles playoff game, airing on the same station. Here in Chicago, WMAQ earned a 43.1/68, the highest-rated Bears game in the market since the 2010 NFC Championship Game and the highest-rated program overall in Chicago since the Cubs’ 2016 World Series Game 7 victory. Both WCAU and WMAQ are owned by NBC.

New Orleans’ WDSU was the top neutral market a 34.5/51; Milwaukee’s WTMJ (in the heart of Packers country, who no doubt were rooting for the Eagles) came in fourth with a 32/49.

Overall, Wild Card Weekend was a success for the NFL, with overnight ratings up across all four games combined compared to 2018.

Remember, these are overnight numbers; finals are likely to be released Tuesday and demographic information including total viewership is not yet available.

Following the game was the Golden Globe Awards, marking the first time the show followed an NFL telecast. The program tumbled from its lead-in in the overnights (12.7), down from the 27.6 household rating peak. In the adults 18-49 demo however (the key demo for entertainment programming), the show earned a 5.2 preliminary rating – up from 5.0 in 2018 without a football lead-in. The program drew an estimated 18.6 million viewers, although the football game likely drew more. The Golden Globes aired live across all time zones.

Of note in the Golden Globes, Netflix and FX Networks dominated with three wins each; Netflix won Best TV Comedy with The Kominsky Method; while FX won Best Limited Series for The Assassination of Gianna Versace: American Crime Story and Best TV Drama for The Americans. In film, Bohemian Rhapsody won Best Picture; Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse won Best Animated Film.

Minority women also scored wins at the awards with Regina King nabbing a Best Actress in A Supporting Role trophy (in movies) for If Beale Street Could Talk and former Grey’s Anatomy star Sandra Oh (who was also co-host of the awards show) winning Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series for BBC America’s Killing Eve.

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What to look for in 2019

With the start of a new year, here are some things to look for in the media industry at home and around the country in 2019:

1. The continuing impact of Netflix and Amazon. And as of this writing, Netflix movie BirdBox has racked up 45 million views on the streaming service. Look for the duo to continue being cultural changers in 2019.

2. Will B96 end its contemporary music format in 2019 after 37 years? With ratings at an all-time low, it could be curtains after a long run – but it may not be as easy as you think as competitors are seeking to block any move they can make by tweaking their station’s existing formats. Another station we should keep our eye on? Struggling country music station Big 95.5

3. What the Cubs new network would look like. The biggest discussion is the Cubs’ new regional sports channel, set to launch in 2020. What will it be named? And are they going to partner with Sinclair Broadcasting to launch it, as rumored?

4. The split of Fox and its namesake studio will be final. An end of an era is looming as Disney would be in control of the 20th Century Fox film studio and its properties, perhaps as soon as March.

5. Can WLS-AM revive itself with newcomers Mancow Muller and Ben Shapiro? In a Democratic-leaning metropolitan area, it could be a tough chore to improve ratings, even with an established name and a hot newcomer.

6. The FCC’s agenda. A Fifth Democratic member (N) is expected to come abroad, but the agency will have to deal with the Government shutdown first. Another item to look for is the battle of chldren’s programming requirements for local stations.

7. Disney and Warner Media each launches their streaming service. With each set to launch next fall, can these studios put a dent in the streaming dominance of Netflix and Amazon?

8. Will Jessica Jones make it to a fourth season? With Netflix cancelling three Marvel shows last year – not to mention a weak second season, Jessica Jones  and The Punisher indeed have targets on their back.

9. Who be will be the next Mayor of Chicago? The reality series Who Wants To Be Mayor Of Chicago is going to be one to watch with at least 20 candidates!

10. Who do you have in your daytime TV talk show pool? Kelly Clarkson or Tamron Hall? The real question is, where is Hall going to land on ABC 7’s schedule? Will she replace the local Windy City Live? Or be stuck in late-night? Is Kelly Clarkson replacing Steve Harvey at 2 p.m. on NBC 5? Hell, will Steve Harvey even have a talk show come next fall? And what is going to replace Extra on the NBC owned stations?

11. The AT&T-Justice Department battle. Will AT&T be forced to rewind its merger with Time Warner (now WarnerMedia)? This battle could wind up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

12. Will Nexstar keep WGN Radio? If Nexstar sells the legendary talker, potential buyers could be Cumulus, iHeartMedia, Entercom, or perhaps someone else. Either way, it’s an end of an era.

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NBC Sports Chicago re-ups with Blackhawks, Bulls, and White Sox

Deal calls for exclusive rights for all regular season, non-network games plus multi-platform streaming rights

WGN likely loses rights

After weeks of speculation, Comcast Corp.’s NBC Sports Chicago announced Wednesday it has struck a multi-year deal to continue carry Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bulls, and Chicago White Sox games well into the next decade beginning in October.

The new pact reportedly calls for exclusive local rights to all three teams’ non-nationally televised games. In the past, most contests appeared on NBC Sports Chicago, with at least a quarter of those games on Tribune’s WGN-TV, who carried the Bulls and White Sox since 1990, and the Blackhawks since 2008.

The deal also gives NBC Sports all streaming rights. If teams are playing at the same time (which is often the case in April when the baseball and basketball/hockey seasons overlap,) the second game would air on NBC Sports Chicago Plus in addition to streaming.

The news means the Chicago Cubs, who were originally partners with the other three teams in what was originally known as Comcast Sports Net since 2004, is likely starting its own regional sports channel as they were not included in the deal.

“We are very pleased to extend our relationship with our partners at NBC Sports Chicago,” said Bulls and White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. “In addition to being the experts in consistently delivering the finest game and surrounding game coverage in the business, it is their year-round commitment to providing our fans with innovative and entertaining multiplatform content that makes NBC Sports Chicago among the very best in the regional sports industry.”

“Blackhawks fans should be very excited that we are continuing our partnership with NBC Sports Chicago,” said Blackhawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz. “In addition to raising the bar on our game-day broadcasts, NBC Sports Chicago has elevated non-game-day television coverage and evolved their digital and social media platforms into some of the most viewer-friendly in the industry.”

The Bulls are staying with NBC Sports Chicago.

Meanwhile, the Cubs have been exploring their own RSN for years, preferring to build a channel around their brand. In the last few weeks, speculation has surfaced on the new channel’s name (Marquee) to the partners involved, including the controversial Sinclair Broadcasting but nothing has been officially announced.

While the deal reflects the importance of streaming, the Cubs’ exit does lower the value of NBC Sports Chicago, given the North Siders were the highest-rated programming on the channel by far, and drew the most advertising revenue. 2018 was a dreadful year for the Bulls, Blackhawks, and the White Sox as all are either coming off losing seasons or currently stuck in one. Ratings for all three have dropped with the White Sox finishing in the ratings basement among all U.S.-based MLB teams – even behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose SportsNet LA is carriage-challenged.

NBC Sports Chicago also carries college basketball, IHSA basketball and football playoff games, and minor-league baseball featuring the White Sox’s farm team, the Charlotte Knights.

Meanwhile, a statement to Crain’s Chicago Business by Tribune Media executives didn’t provide any insight on what WGN would do with the pending loss of all three teams and possibly the Cubs, who’ve aired on WGN since 1948. “We have great relationships with all the Chicago sports teams and as the long-time broadcast home of the Cubs, Sox, Hawks and Bulls, we remain optimistic that we can continue bringing free over-the-air games to Chicago’s sports fans for many years to come,” a station spokesperson said.

As you recall, WGN dropped its CW affiliation in 2016 in order to carry pro sports contests in primetime. But over the last fifteen years, local sports programming has shifted from over-the-air broadcasters to regional sports networks – almost on an exclusive basis as teams can make more money from those deals since they can collect fees not only from advertising, but from cable operators in a dual revenue stream. It was one of the reasons why the ACC declined to renew a television deal with over-the-air syndicator Raycom Sports and signed one with ESPN to launch a new cable network.

WGN was basically the last broadcast station in the country carrying games from three of the major sports leagues. Tribune is currently in the process of being purchased by Nexstar for $4.1 billion, but it is not clear if the company being on the sales block for the last two years played any role in the decision for the Bulls, Blackhawks, and White Sox to exclusively hook up with NBC Sports Chicago.

And with a new emphasis on streaming, NBC Sports Chicago had an advantage WGN simply didn’t have as the Tribune station doesn’t have the capability to do so with sporting events.

Currently, WGN airs reruns of black-ish and Last Man Standing in double runs from 7 to 9 p.m. on nights when the station isn’t running sports. If WGN loses the Cubs, et. al, the station could look at some options, possibly expanding local news into primetime and even re-affiliating with The CW, whose deal with Fox-owned WPWR runs until 2021.

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2018: So how did we do?

Back when the year started, T Dog Media look at the stories to watch in 2018. So how did we do? Let’s find out:

1. The proposed merger of Disney and 21st Century Fox and AT&T and Time Warner. All eyes will be on these two as they make a case to federal regulators to combine as we see how this transition pans out. Meanwhile, Time Warner and AT&T face an uphill fight to unify their companies, as they are taking their case against the Justice Department to court. We could also see more media mergers in 2018.

Disney and Fox’s merger is still on track as planned, but the Justice Department appealed a judge’s decision to unify AT&T and TimeWarner (now Warner Media) in a scenario that now could play out in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

2. Sinclair’s takeover of Tribune. If (and when) the FCC approves the deal, the biggest question is what would WGN-TV and the other Tribune stations look like? Will they adapt the same conservative-leaning news format other Sinclair stations have developed? Also, is WGN Radio going to continue with its friendly, general-talk format?

The Sinclair-Tribune deal collapsed after the FCC raised questions about Sinclair’s control of New York and Chicago stations after Sinclair planned to spin them off and still operate them. Tribune later made a deal with Nexstar for its stations.

3. Big daytime TV shakeup coming. Speaking of Sinclair, their acquisition of Tribune is also holding up programming deals, leaving more shows on the bubble than usual. With Sinclair turning a cold shoulder to conflict talk shows, longtime stalwarts Maury Povich and Jerry Springer (both whom are close to 80) could be finally riding into the sunset. Meanwhile, decisions on Harry Connick Jr.’s talk show and many other syndicated programs are also due. One fate has been already determined with the cancellation of CW’s The Robert Irvine Show.

While “Maury” received a two-year renewal deal, it was curtains for “Harry” and “Jerry”, whose show ended after 28 seasons. Reruns of Springer’s show replaced “Robert Irvine” on The CW.

4. The upcoming November election. Those on the business side of the media industry are quite nervous as many Republicans holding office are on the bubble with many constituents upset with President Trump’s policies. Case in point: Democrat Doug Jones’ stunning victory over Republican Roy Moore in deep-red Alabama’s senate race, thanks to a strong black voter turnout.

Democrats put a dent in the GOP monopoly by winning the House, which could put a kibosh on the local station ownership cap being raised.

5. Can the new WBMX keep up the momentum? The new Classic Hip-Hop/R&B station (known as 104.3 Jams) had strong sampling in its first ratings report, finishing fifth last month and plans to introduce a new talent lineup soon. Will this be a long-term success? Or a fast flameout like in Dallas, Houston, and Indianapolis? Unlike those markets however, Chicago’s declining African-American population could play a role in whether or not this station succeeds.

104.3 Jams’ ratings haven’t been consistent and the jury is still out on whether or not this format can succeed in Chicago. And the city’s declining African-American population hasn’t played a role in the station’s success, or lack thereof. 

6. The FCC’s agenda. After killing net neutrality and throwing out most rules (i.e. cross-ownership), the agency is setting its sights on the television station ownership cap, currently at 39 percent. The cap could be raised – or even eliminated – which could spark a fight with Democrats in Congress.

Actually been a quiet year at the FCC, if you count the Sinclair debcale and a looming battle over children’s television rules.

7. The return of American Idol. With ratings for broadcast network television continuing to head south, the former Fox hit debuts on ABC March 11. Can it rekindle its ratings magic on another network?

American Idol was a decent performer for ABC, but not to the extent it was for Fox in its early seasons.

8. Will the negative spotlight stay on Chicago? With Mayor Rahm Emanuel now more or less the public face of the city (a position Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey once held) and President Trump continuing to slam Chicago over gun violence – not to mention the GOP and right-wingers continuing to use us to score political points with their base, Chicago’s hapless image as a dysfunctional place will unfortunately continue.

The good news: Chicago’s homicide and shooting rates continue to decline this year, and the city has not been the target of Trump much in 2018. The bad news? The city’s reputation continues to suffer on the global stage as the international media continues to focus on the city’s gun violence epidemic, as one particular violent August weekend attested. Oddly, The LaQuan McDonald trial last fall failed to attract much attention, even in Chicago as the Judge Kavanaugh hearings grabbed most of the headlines.

9. Can Chicago stop the population bleeding? Led by the exodus of African-Americans, the nation’s third-ranked media market lost population again last year and is something to watch.  Only San Diego and Indianapolis had a bigger drop (among TV households) percentage-wise year-to-year.

It did not, but someone needs to question Nielsen’s tabulation of TV homes. In a state where nearly every municipality is losing population, how can Peoria-Bloomington gain nearly 12,000 homes out of nowhere?

10. Will declining NFL ratings affect the Super Bowl? With NFL ratings down considerably this year due to a number of factors, Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis could be one of the least-watched in ages.

The NFL’s ratings rebounded this year, thanks to stronger games and Fox’s acquisition of Thursday Night Football.

11. Chicago sports teams’ outlook. Can the Bears flourish under a new coach? Can the Cubs bounce back after losing in the NLCS? Are the other teams rebuilding efforts progressing well?  These questions aren’t going to be easy to answer.

Under new head coach Matt Nagy, the Bears won the NFC North for the first time since 2010 and are headed to the playoffs. As for the others, the Cubs didn’t make it past the Wild-Card round and the less said about the other three pro teams, the better.

12. What cable network will shutter next? Due to the rising cost of cable and cord-cutting, cable networks with minimal audiences are in danger of shutting down. Those on the bubble include MTV Classic, Logo, and WGN America, who could get a new name and look under new owner Sinclair.

Despite cord-cutting and the proliferation of streaming, no cable networks closed in 2018 – consider this a Christmas miracle. But others, such as TVLand cut back or eliminated their original programming output.

For more, follow T Dog Media on Twitter @tdogmedia and on Instagram.

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Rewinding 2018 in media

2018 saw the end of The Loop after 41 years.

Year marked by scandals, futility, and other things

2018 wasn’t exactly a repeat of the last two horrendous years in the media world, but scandals and deceit still ruled the roost.

Though not topping 2017’s Disney-Fox deal, 2018 had some mega transactions – though the second-biggest merger of 2017 went bust as Sinclair Broadcasting’s $4 billion deal to buy Tribune Media fell though thanks to regulatory concerns and Sinclair’s own arrogance (Tribune was sold to Nexstar instead for $4.1 billion.) Sinclair also had other controversies: forcing its news anchors to read a script denouncing “fake news” and a host losing his job from its St. Louis TV station after using the word “poker” in a quite provocative way. Overall, 2018 was a forgettable year for Sinclair Broadcasting.

Other mega transactions included Gray swallowing up Raycom Media, as the Montgomery, Ala.-based broadcaster calls it a career by also shuttering Raycom Sports after losing ACC rights to ESPN so the conference can launch their new sports network. 

Chicago’s radio scene was marked by the demise of classic rocker The Loop (WLUP-FM) after 41 years. WLUP was sold to the Educational Media Foundation and flipped to Christian music, joining other markets in doing so (Shaw University’s jazz station WSHA-FM in Raleigh, N.C. went through a similar fate.) And Steve Dahl – who played a integral role in The Loop’s success early in its run, stepped down from his WLS-AM afternoon gig.

WGN’s “Man Of The People” is a surprise hit.

Meanwhile, Chicago radio basically quit being innovative by signing past-their-prime personalities Drex (to B96) and Mancow (to WLS-AM). But there were some success stories – notably the rise of The Drive (WDRV-FM) and WLS-FM, whose Classic Hits format drew bigger ratings than anything on the frequency in decades. On the other hand, the sharp ratings decline of Top 40 outlet B96 (WBBM-FM) has industry observers wondering how long the heritage station can survive.

In terms of local television, WGN’s Saturday night Man Of The People with morning sports anchor Pat Tomasulo was a surprise hit (and received a positive review from this website) while Fox’s WFLD introduced Flannery Fired Up, giving political editor Mike Flannery his own show. Despite plenty of promotion, WCIU’s morning show The Jam had difficulty finding an audience in the face of WGN’s dominant newscast, but it was ABC-owned WLS-TV who continued its ratings dominance of the market, especially in local news – even after Kathy Brock’s retirement in June. 

Moving on to the scandal department, it was quite a year as many in the industry were forced out due to bullying, sexual harassment, racism, and more. Mark Konkol was forced out of the Chicago Reader as Editor-In-Chief in February after approving a front page featuring Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker on a lawn jockey spewing black smoke, which some called racist. Months later, Today’s Megyn Kelly made remarks dismissing the concerns over blackface and in turn, NBC dismissed her as host.

Les Moonves stepped down from CBS in September after sexual harassment allegations.

Les Moonves stepped down from CBS after sexual harassment allegations, which were proven to be true. Also out was Michael Ferro of Tronc (which reverted back to Tribune Publishing), stepping down mere hours before Vanity Fair published sexual harassment allegations against him.

But the biggest loser of the year is of course, Roseanne Barr. She lost her ABC show after she made a racist comment on Twitter, referring to Valerie Jarrett as an “ape” (the show has since been re-christened as The Conners.)

Turning to the national television scene, the major broadcast networks continued to progress backward, as viewers basically rejected most if not all, of the new primetime fall shows – and almost all received full-season renewals. As those pesky reboots petered into 2018, Magnum and the return of Murphy Brown proved you can leave well enough alone. Meanwhile, the number of scripted television shows continue to soar with the number nearing 500 programs, thanks to the abundance of streaming services.

And speaking of streaming services, Netflix’s relationship with Marvel unraveled as the streamer canceled three of their shows. Another Marvel Netflix show – the second season of Jessica Jones, turned out to be the biggest disappointment of 2018. But while they were firing superheroes, Netflix was picking off talent from the other networks – notably Shonda Rhimes, Channing Dungey, and Kenya Barris – all from Disney.

Meanwhile, Jerry Springer finally hung up the mic on his rambunctious talk show after 28 years, but is returning next year in a new show, Judge Jerry. We also poured one out on the curb for HBO Boxing after 45 years and bid farewell to White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson, who retired.

Notable deaths in 2018 included WGN Radio host Milton Rosenberg; WMAQ reporter and anchor Warner Saunders; and sci-fi author Harlan Ellison and Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee. We also lost actress and director Penny Marshall and said so long to Grammy-winning singer Aretha Franklin.

Khalil Mack helps brings the Bears back to relevance in 2018.

The unlikely comeback of the year, no doubt belongs to the Chicago Bears as the Monsters Of The Midway won a division title for the first time in eight years and saw local ratings soar, with the NFL also seeing increased ratings after being plagued with controversies. On the other hand, Chicago’s other teams – the Bulls, Blackhawks, and White Sox each saw their records collapse and ratings plummet. And while the Cubs failed to make it out of the Wild Card round in the MLB Playoffs, they officially made their intentions known on launching their own regional sports network in 2020.

The Chicago Fire decided to make themselves invisible as the soccer team signed an exclusive deal with the ESPN Plus streaming service, while Chicagoans gave the Winter Olympics the cold shoulder as residents are still peeved about the Windy City getting snubbed for the 2016 Summer games.

Best/Worst shows of 2018

After twelve years – and due the abundance of lists everywhere else (not to mention the huge number of TV shows), I’ve decided not to do a best or worst list this year as the method has become way too complicated. Oh, for the simpler days of the “Toilet 10” and the “Excellent 10” (well, not the names.)

But if I were to make a list, I would put Last Week Tonight With John Oliver and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as the top shows of the year, followed by Superstore and the always reliable Survivor and Bob’s Burgers. The worst? Way too many to name, but deserving mention were the new Magnum P.I., Single Parents, The Proposal, and Vivica A. Fox’s Face The Truth – not to mention the dead-on-arrival I Feel Bad, which was put out of its misery this week. And of course, the aforementioned second season of Jessica Jones, which was the top show of 2016.

In the next few days, look for what to expect in 2019 and an update on 2018’s predictions. Happy New Year from T Dog Media!

Follow T Dog Media on Twitter @tdogmedia.

 

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Mancow returns to Chicago radio…again

What’s traditional media’s response to a changing market? Hire the same people over and over again.

Currently, broadcast network television is relying on reboots of shows no one wants to see, junk reality competition programming, paint-by-numbers procedurals (mainly on CBS) and long-running programs that never seem to end to sustain their declining ratings.

But apparently, broadcast network execs must’ve gotten their inspiration for uninspiring programming from somewhere.

Which brings us to Chicago radio, where we not only recycle the same radio personalities – we also recycle the same executives.

Case in point: as rumored for the last several weeks, Cumulus-owned WLS-AM announced it has re-hired Erich Mancow Muller to do mornings on the 50,000-watt blowtorch beginning January 3, as reported exclusively Sunday night on Robert Feder’s website. Mancow returns to the airwaves nearly a year after he and the rest of the staff of WLUP-FM were cut in a format change when Merlin Media was forced to sell the station.

The changes come after a huge management shakeup at Cumulus last year, with former Emmis Chicago boss Marv Nyren taking over as market manager. The company decided to shift back to conservative talk with WLS-AM, dropping pro sports broadcasts from the station (thanks to Cumulus’ bankruptcy) and cutting ties to non-political hosts including Steve Dahl and the duo of Bob Sirott and Marianne Muricano.

While you can put Mancow in the non-political category given his stints at the former WRCX-FM and WKQX-FM (the original Q101), he was also on WLS between 2008 and 2010, paired with Pat Cassidy. Mancow has gone on record ripping into Chicagoans and their politicians for their left-leaning ways, especially electing former President Barack Obama in a media market whose registered voters are more than 70 percent Democrat.

“Everybody Loves Mancow” is the sitcom that refuses to end. And the joke is on Chicago radio listeners.

I can rehash all the things I’ve said about Muller on this site, but if you want to read past articles I’ve written about him (and there are a few featuring some choice language), you can do so here (don’t forget to check out the famous Everybody Loves Mancow piece.) But as I pointed out Sunday night on Twitter, radio – and now broadcast network television, have basically given up on innovation and risen the white flag on competing with tech giants such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Netflix, Spotify, Pandora, and Sirius/XM – all for the sake of maintaining the status quo by companies re-hiring personalities who long ago wore out their welcome, like Muller and New York radio host Mike Francesca. It’s little wonder people such as Howard Stern and Shonda Rhimes have left traditional media.

Even worse, not only Chicago radio recycles the same personalities, they also recycle the same executives, such as Nyren (who I’ve ripped on this blog before) and Jimmy deCastro, among others, lessening the chance of any fresh and/or innovative ideas. Much like Chicago politics, you basically have a job for life in this industry if you know when and how to kiss the right behind. Hiring a radio host – whose recent accomplishments include achieving a zero rating for his WPWR television show for two years and failing to find an audience on The Loop is a testament to that. I’ve said Chicago is the worst radio market in the country, but Entercom New York and their lack of leadership regarding Francesca and WFAN keep proving me wrong.

In a business now controlled by Wall Street bankers and very generous bankruptcy judges, its rinse, lather, and repeat the same mistakes. Both Cumulus and iHeartMedia filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, as Cumulus came out only a few months ago. It was the bankruptcy who wound up costing Muller his last job in the first place, as an local marketing agreement between Cumulus and Merlin collapsed. But the Jingle Balls and Music Award shows must go on, as if iHeart can magically pull money from their behind.

Given all the useless reboots we’re seeing on television, I’m surprised Mancow’s TV show hasn’t had the same treatment. But given the mindset of the people who run our broadcast television networks and radio stations, don’t be surprised if it returns one day. Because the people running traditional media are just that stupid, no matter how many viewers or listeners head for the exits never to return.

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New Year’s Eve programming: Same as last year

Networks, local stations remain status quo as hosts return

There’s nothing like ringing in 2019 than watching the same people who did so with 2018.

No major changes are expected in New Year’s Eve programming December 31, both nationally and locally as viewers will same the same familiar faces they saw last year. The stability is a nod to the unusually high homes-using-television levels on the holiday, despite the abundance of those (usually) expensive New Year’s Eve parties. As a result, Nielsen numbers on both levels are actually higher than normal on a regualr weeknight.

Another attraction to the shows? The train-wreck variety we get to see. In recent years, we were treated to Mariah Carey screwing up a performance in Times Square to CNN’s Don Lemon taking a hit from a bong.

Despite low ratings opposite ABC 7’s popular Countdown Chicago, NBC 5 is bringing back New Year’s Eve Live In Chicago for 2019, according to Robert Feder. The program is being hosted by Marion Brooks, Siafa Lewis, and Chris Hush and for the second year in a row, also features Kiss FM’s Christopher Frederick and musical performances from a cast member each from Chicago Fire and Chicago Med. NBC 5’s special of course, grew out of the failed Chi-Town Rising specials in 2015 and 2016.

Of Course, ABC 7’s New Year’s Eve show once again features Janet Davies and Mark Giangreco as hosts. Hopefully, they won’t kiss each other at the stroke of midnight.

Last year, Countdown Chicago crushed NBC 5’s countdown show in the ratings, 16.8 to 5.0 in households. ABC’s Dick Clark festivities also dominated, scoring ratings gains from the previous year. Both local shows start at 11:08 p.m.

Meanwhile, the national networks are also keeping the status quo to ring in 2019. Fox once again is having Steve Harvey host its NYE show, and Ryan Searcest and Jenny McCarthy are back for Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve with musical performances in Times Square from Christina Aguilera, Bastille, Dan + Shay, and the ageless New Kids On The Block.

Ciara returns to host the west coast pre-taped Hollywood portion of the show with musical guests The Chainsmokers, Camilla Cabello, and more. Last year, this blog noted Ciara’s hosting skills were a lot to be left desired. Ciara replaced Fergie (Stacy Ferguson), who departed to host Fox’s The Four.

Due to Countdown airing over ABC 7 at the same time, the Central Time Zone countdown featuring Lucy Hale from New Orleans and group Post Malone (from Barclays Center in Brooklyn) is being pre-empted in the Chicago area.

And yes, Don Lemon will be back at CNN’s NYE celebration, with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen – minus the bong this time (we hope.)

While NBC is once again tapping Carson Daly and Chrissy Teigen for their NYE celebration (also at Times Square), CBS is once again sitting this one out as the network hasn’t produced a NYE celebration in nearly 40 years.

And if the NYE train wrecks aren’t to your liking, numerous cable and digital subchannel networks plan special programming on the night, including marathons and binges of your favorite shows – for one, Decades plans a five-day Twilight Zone marathon starting at 11 a.m. local time New Year’s Eve.

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Media Notepad: WLS-AM’s “Big John” shifts to afternoons

Plus… big day for Bears as they beat rival; Channing Dungey heads to Netflix; Extra adds Fox stations in large markets

With Steve Dahl set to depart Cumulus-owned WLS-AM this Friday, the station announced last week it was shifting Big John Howell to afternoons from mornings starting January 3, from 5 to 7 p.m. weekdays.

In a statement, the thirty-year veteran of Chicago radio was happy with the news he gets a chance to stick around. “I’m very excited about hosting the new afternoon show at WLS-AM 890. I intend to present Chicago with a quick-paced, informative, honest and intelligent summary of the day’s biggest stories; an afternoon wrap of the day’s biggest events featuring prominent newsmakers, reporters, experts and stars. Of course, our town’s most colorful characters will also be welcome. In addition, I’m looking forward to (finally) golfing when the sun’s in the east.”

A veteran of WCKG-FM and WUSN, Howell joined Salem’s conservative outlet WIND-AM eight years ago and shifted to WLS-AM in 2015, paired with Ramblin’ Ray Stevens in mornings, also a WUSN alumnus.

The moves are part of a bigger shift as WLS is tilting more toward conservative talk. Also beginning in January, WLS is shifting Ben Shapiro from evenings to afternoons and expanding his syndicated show to three hours. The controversial Shapiro is slotted from 2 to 5 p.m.

There is still no word on who would fill morning drive or what would happen to Stevens. There is still talk Mancow Muller could do mornings, but those plans are still in negotiation.


Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Bear down! The Chicago Bears victory over rival Green Bay not only clinched the NFC North title for the Monsters Of The Midway (not to mention validation for that awful opening night loss), but also clinched a ratings victory for Fox-owned WFLD.

According to Nielsen, the Bears game drew a 32.8 household rating – the highest-rated afternoon game so far this season and the third-highest-rated game overall in 2018. The ratings increases comes as the Bears win their first division title since 2010 and improved to a 10-4 record.

The NFL has seen a bit of a ratings resurgence this year after a season marked with controversies on and off the field. CBS and the league received good news Monday as the highly-hyped New England Patriots-Pittsburgh Steelers game drew an overnight 16.5 household metered-market rating. Though it was down 4 percent from last year (featuring the exact same matchup in week fifteen), it is still the highest-rated NFL game this year in the overnights, surpassing Eagles-Cowboys on Fox just last week.

The Bears now go to Santa Clara, Calif.’s Levi’s Stadium to play the San Francisco 49ers next week at 3:05 p.m. Ratings might drop however, because a lot of people will likely be at holiday parties (watching the Bears) and fewer people at home (watching the Bears.)

With the hot Bears now in the playoffs, it could be a boon for the league as the team has always drawn well nationally (when the team is playing good , of course.) With the NFC up for grabs this year, it is entirely possible the Bears could wind up in the Championship Game – or even the Super Bowl.


In a move surprising some in the industry, the Fox-owned stations have purchased the long-running syndicated strip Extra beginning in September 2019, leaving its longtime home at the NBC O&Os.

Warner Bros. struck a deal with Fox to carry the show in the nation’s largest markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco, Orlando (where the show currently doesn’t have an affiliate), and Charlotte (where the show is moving from its 2:30 a.m. graveyard slot at CW affiliate WCCB.) This gives Extra ten Fox-owned stations in its lineup.

In Chicago, Fox-owned WFLD already airs Extra weekdays at 3 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. WFLD acquired the rights in 2016 after longtime rights holder WMAQ-TV dropped the show from its 4 p.m. time period for local news expansion. Extra also airs on Fox’s Washington D.C. duopoly and WJBK Detroit.

Fox senior vice president of programming Frank Cicha called the Extra deal a “win-win for two companies with a strong history together.  [It] fits right into our day and date strategy and the stations will be ready to ensure its continued success.”

Extra currently airs in the “prime access” time slots at WNBC New York, KNBC Los Angeles, and WCAU Philadelphia at 7 p.m. as a lead-in to NBC’s Access (formerly Access Hollywood). In Dallas, Extra airs at 6:30 p.m. on KXAS. NBC also holds rights to Extra at Miami’s WTVJ and Hartford’s WVIT; it is not known where Extra would end up in those markets next fall. However, Extra could stay on WTVJ and WVIT if NBC does not announce replacement programming for the show in its larger markets. NBC officials declined to comment.

The NBC-owned stations were the first group to acquire Extra in 1993 as it was pitched as an alternative to Paramount’s Entertainment Tonight and Hard Copy after KNBC lost both access shows to cross-town L.A. competitor KCBS in 1994, the year Extra debuted. In 1996, NBC launched Access as an companion show, which it owned but didn’t syndicate at first.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Extra is now hosted by Mario Lopez.

Extra’s first anchors in 1994 were Arthel Neville and Dave Nesmeth. Other former anchors included Leeza Gibbons, Mark McGrath (of Sugar Ray fame), and Clarissa Thompson. In the most recent ratings report, Extra had a 1.1 rating.


In another instance of the broadcast and cable industries losing talent to streaming services, Netflix Monday snared former ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey as their new vice president of content, reporting directly to programming chief Cindy Holland. Dungey is the latest high-profile exec to jump to the service, following Shonda Rhimes and black-ish creator Kenya Barris, both also ABC alumnus.

“Channing is a creative force whose taste and talent have earned her the admiration of her peers across the industry. She’s a risk taker and groundbreaker and talent love working with her. I couldn’t be happier to welcome her to Netflix,” said Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos in a statement.

Dungey became the first African-American woman to be named president of an entertainment network in 2016. Dugney departed the position in November after a major shake-up within Disney/ABC’s television ranks, with several Fox execs coming on board thanks to the company’s acquisition of various 21st Century Fox assets. Dungey spent fifteen years at ABC, first at Touchstone Television/ABC Studios, developing shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Criminal Minds (for CBS) among others and then onto the main network.

The move is yet another reminder of how tough it is for the broadcast networks to compete with streaming services, not only for shows, but also talent and management. Other talent who shifted to the tech space include Ryan Murphy (also to Netflix) and several execs including former NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke, now head of Amazon Studios.

And for those wondering…yes, Channing Dungey is related to actress Merrin Dungey (of Alias and Malcolm In The Middle.) They’re sisters.

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“Murphy Brown”, “Happy Together” to end runs (maybe)

But don’t look for an official cancellation right now…try again in six months

(Editor’s Note: Due to a wrong draft of this article being posted on November 30, this piece was re-posted and updated as the original contained numerous grammatical and factual errors. You expect a high-quality product coming from T Dog Media and will work to ensure you this mix-up will not happen again. Thank you. – T.H.)

In an era where fans are now left guessing about the fate of their favorite shows for months on end, CBS two weeks ago announced two sitcoms – the revival of Murphy Brown and newcomer Happy Together are ending their runs after thirteen episodes.

But you might want to refrain from pouring a forty on the street corner eulogizing the two sitcoms as they may not be done – yet.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, CBS announced Murphy and Happy would end their runs after their initial seasons, being replaced in midseason by new comedy Fam on Thursdays beginning on January 10 and by the return of Man With A Plan on Mondays beginning February 4, respectively.

On November 29 however, Murphy creator Diane English said in a tweet the show wasn’t canceled and is still being considered for a second season of thirteen episodes. She also said fans would have to wait until the spring – specifically the May upfronts – if they would make the 2019-20 CBS schedule.

This means if you re a fan of either show, you’ll have to wait six long months to find out if your show will be back for a second season.

There is precedent for this – last season, ABC aired the critically panned and low-rated Inhumans, an eight-episode series who wrapped up its run in late November. But despite the obvious pink-slip, fans had to wait six months for its fate to be determined, with these decisions being made days before the upfronts.

Last spring, this blog railed against the practice of the broadcast networks cancelling so many shows in a three-day period after ABC took so long to officially cancel Inhumans even after it was a foregone conclusion. Nineteen shows were canceled in 24 hours as one headline screamed – showing so little respect for fans of some of these programs. I wrote: “The headlines we see about “20 shows canceled in 24 hours” makes the industry look bad and you wonder why the network television business is no longer respected. Look, network television is losing viewers – especially younger ones year after year and this “collusion”- type stunt a measly three days a year hurts the credibility of the major networks and the TV business in general – especially when cable networks and streaming services and even syndicators make renewal/cancellation decisions year-around.”

“Fans of these shows and the people who work on them – whether behind the camera or in front of – deserve better. Tugging along their heartstrings just to build some phony drama before upfronts is crass and cruel.”

“Happy Together” (CBS)

And it looks like the major broadcast networks are repeating this again come May as they one-up another in a game of chess as thus far, no series has received an official cancellation – not even the very low-rated Alec Baldwin Show, which was moved to Saturday nights on December 8.

Ironically, the only cancellations this fall were from shows from other networks and/or streaming services, with Netflix cancelling Marvel dramas Iron Fist and Luke Cage. The broadcast networks did cancel some shows recently, but basically summer replacement series such as Nine Lives and Salvation and NBC dropping Megyn Kelly from Today after controversial comments about blackface.

The networks were hesitant about announcing cancellations outside of the upfronts for the last few years: in 2013, there was confusion on whether Fox canceled The Cleveland Show. In 2015, I wrote a piece about the major networks stalling over fates of shows due to a fear of backlash, playing games with viewers in the process.

Both Murphy Brown and Happy Together have underperformed in the ratings. Murphy has averaged around a 0.9 rating in the adult 18-49 demo on Thursday nights while Happy Together has also earned a 0.9 rating and lost a significant amount of its lead-in from The Neighborhood on Monday nights.

But much like scripted series’ obsession with cliffhangers, the broadcast networks now want you to wait until May for the fate of your favorite shows as they use a three-day period – and you wonder why viewers are abandoning network prime-time television as overall ratings continue to drop. Sadly, network executives – and Madison Avenue – still don’t get it in a business that continues to die with every passing day.

 

 

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“Peanuts” gang heads to Apple

Longtime Charles Schulz characters head to new streaming service in 2019 as viewers’ preferences shift

Good grief, you’re heading to a streaming service, Chuck.

Apple and DHX Media announced Friday an exclusive deal to bring Charles M. Schulz’s iconic characters to the tech company’s new streaming service, scheduled to launch in 2019 in new series and shorts.

The Halifax, Nova Scotia-based company holds the rights to the Peanuts library through an 80 percent stake, with the Schulz family and Sony Music holding the rest. DHX Media also holds the rights to the DIC library (Inspector Gadget), and Cookie Jar Entertainment, home to Arthur and Johnny Test.

The deal also includes shorts produced in association with NASA and Peanuts Worldwide with Snoopy exploring outer space.

Details on Apple’s streaming service has yet to be unveiled, so it is not known if it would be available to stream on other devices other than Apple TV, or iOS devices. It is also not known if the Peanuts content would be available on Apple’s iTunes store for purchase.

The deal does not include existing library product, including the famous holiday specials A Charlie Brown Christmas; It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; and others. Those are staying at ABC, who outbid longtime home CBS for those properties in 2001. Peanuts specials have aired on all four broadcast networks, the last one airing on Fox in 20110 (Happiness Is A Warm Blanket.)

In the last few years, the Peanuts gang have had a resurgence in pop culture, thanks to those yearly holiday specials and the successful Peanuts Movie, released in 2015. Despite the success as specials, only one TV series based on the comic strip was ever produced – CBS’ Saturday morning cartoon The Charlie Brown And Snoopy Show, airing from 1983-86. After a 50-year run, Charles Schulz’s comic strip ended in 2000, the last one published on the morning of his death.

Fore! Snoopy and NASA are teaming up on new shorts featuring the world-famous astronaut in space.

And the arena is about to get even more crowded. In addition to Apple, new streamers from Disney, Warner Media, and others are expected to launch next year, adding to the total of scripted series. Already, Apple has signed talent to develop new series including Steven Speilberg (Amazing Stories), Loren Bouchard (Bob’s Burgers), J.J. Abrams and NBA player Kevin Durant. Already, Facebook (though its Watch service) recently launched a new scripted series featuring Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Whether we like it or not, digital and streaming is the future of scripted programming as ratings for linear television networks continue to decline. This is perhaps why we are seeing more and more unscripted programming on the major broadcast networks – especially in the winter months. For example, CBS recently announced a major investment in unscripted, launching a new America’s Got Talent-like series World’s Best after the Super Bowl and NBC launching a spin-off of its highest-rated summer show titled Champions, while Fox has The Masked Singer on tap. The networks – notably ABC – seem to be throwing in the towel noting they can’t compete with the deep pockets of tech companies when it comes to scripted programming. While the networks are busy pitter-pattering around,  broadcast groups have decided to take the matter in their own hands, by scaling up with each other as the recent $4.1 billion purchase of Tribune Media by Nexstar attests.

If you want the “best” programming now, you have to pay for it (or illegally download it) as the medium is being split up into numerous turfs: a country club atmosphere where Snoopy and Catherine Zeta-Jones are served Beef Wellington, Baked Alaska, and Champagne and one where you have to climb up into a treehouse and dine on Cheez-Its and Crystal Light.

 

 

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