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Fox affiliates succumb

What a difference a year makes-especially if you're a Fox affiliate. At last year's NATPE conference, affiliates were grumbling over the network's prime time woes, the location of Fox Kids' weekday afternoon block and controversy surrounding some of Fox's reality projects.

At the Jan. 20 Fox-affiliate meetings in Las Vegas, it was something of a lovefest. Fox's prime time ratings have rebounded with successful launches of new dramas and comedies; the network agreed to let its stations move the weekday Fox Kids' block back an hour, and controversial reality series Temptation Island
is racking up big numbers that are just fine with affiliates.

"I think it's important that you understand how proud the affiliates are of the job that [Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman] and [Twentieth Century Fox and Fox Broadcasting head] Sandy Grushow have done over the past year or so," says Cullie Tarleton, Fox's affiliate board chairman. "The difference between last January and this January is the difference between night and day. The affiliate body is strongly behind Gail and Sandy, and we are so proud of the success we are enjoying and what we saw in terms of development for midseason and the fall. Onward and upward."

About Temptation Island,
Madeline Bonnot, general manager of Fox affiliate WVUE-TV New Orleans, says: "The [promotional] spots going into the show were so sensational and actually a lot sexier than the show itself. The calls to stations before, many of them weren't happy, but once the show launched, quite honestly, the outrage really died down because it's just great entertainment."

And don't look for any more reality denigration from the network. Fox's top executive, Peter Chernin, had no hesitation defending the show. Not surprising, really, given that it has set a number of ratings records for the network in its first two outings. "There's been a lot of talk lately about reality programming and a lot of hand-wringing in the press over the sensationalism at the heart of this new genre, especially in the case of Temptation Island," Chernin told Fox affiliates: "I just want to say: 'Get over it.' It's entertainment and I'm not embarrassed in the least about being the network that's home to Temptation Island."

Berman says the network is considering a second edition of Temptation Island,
which could be ready for the May sweeps. "We have not made a decision about a Temptation Island 2,
but we are certainly thinking about it. We are obviously impressed with the numbers so far."

The first piece of business for Fox affiliates coming into the NATPE meetings was Fox Kids and a deal was quickly made that allows for the weekday Fox Kids programming block to be moved from 3-5 p.m. to 2-4 p.m.

Stations will be allowed to make the move this fall and Fox executives expect all of their affiliates, including the owned-and-operated stations, to implement it. The news was met by "loud" applause by affiliates, which are looking to get young-adult programming into the 4-5 p.m. time period.

"The affiliates came to us and said, 'look, we are struggling in this time period,'" explains Fox's president of network distribution, Bob Quicksilver. "Local revenue is down and our early-fringe and access time periods are being impacted and, as a result, we need your help as a partner."

The deal didn't come without concessions from affiliates. They reportedly will have to give up some ad time to the network. Tarleton won't say what the network will receive from its affiliates, but notes, "We didn't give away the store." And, quietly, a number of Fox affiliates were saying this might be the first step toward "eliminating" the Fox Kids' weekday block altogether.