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'SNL' on The CW? It's 'Normal' in Salt Lake

The New Normal got a blast of publicity when KSL Salt Lake City said it would not air the show due to its “rude and crude” dialogue. Residents of DMA No. 33 had to wait a few more days to see NBC’s rookie sitcom, but they got two runs of it Sept. 15 on CW affiliate KUCW—sandwiched around the season premiere of Saturday Night Live, which KSL does not show either, airing a local sports block instead.

It’s a quirky arrangement in Salt Lake, with KUCW periodically picking up NBC shows when KSL’s conservative interests take precedence. Matt Jaquint, vice president and general manager at KTVX and KUCW, is all too happy to get blue-chip programs such as SNL on his junior station. “It’s definitely a win for the CW,” Jaquint says. “I assume it’s a win for [KSL] too—their own sports shows, with a lot of avails. They may be able to make more money.”

Jaquint says it’s an informal relationship with NBC, with no contract, occasional phone calls from the network when an NBC show needs a home, and a typical network-affiliate inventory arrangement.

It can be difficult to determine which programs KSL—owned by Bonneville International, a unit of the Church of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon church)—pre-empts for moral reasons and which it drops for revenue reasons. To wit: While it does not air Saturday Night Live, KSL does air some SNL primetime specials. “I’m guessing it’s probably some of both,” says Scott D. Pierce, TV critic at The Salt Lake Tribune. “They’ve got to be making more money on a locally produced sports show than a network late-night show.”

KSL did not respond to several requests for comment. NBC would not comment on its relationship with its Salt Lake affiliate.

The pre-empting pre-dates KSL’s switch from a CBS affiliation to NBC in 1995. Pierce notes the station never bumped Will & Grace, which featured two gay lead characters, or the often graphic Law & Order programs. “They’re wildly inconsistent,” says Pierce. “There are times I wonder if they watch their own shows.” (Note: Pierce was laid off at the Deseret News, which is also owned by the Church of LDS, before joining the rival Tribune.)

KSL’s pre-emptions go beyond edgy comedies. Written into its affiliate contract, says Pierce, is an arrangement for KSL to air, twice a year, four weekend daytime hours of the LDS’ General Conference, which one local TV veteran says does “Super Bowl numbers” on the station. When that occurs the first weekend of October, KUCW will pick up NBC’s college football game telecast.

Nexstar recently agreed to acquire KUCW and KTVX, Salt Lake’s ABC affiliate, from Newport Television (see Market Eye).

KSL isn’t the only Salt Lake station breaking from network patterns. KUTV, a former CBS O&O, splits the two hours of CBS This Morning between KUTV and sister MyNetworkTV affiliate KMYU, a holdover from its old O&O contract.

KMYU was the grateful recipient of NBC’s The Playboy Club last season, though the show was the first one killed in the fall. KUCW passed on The Playboy Club because it could not run it in pattern due to CW primetime commitments.

In Playboy Club’s place on KSL was a homegrown comedy/variety show called We Are Utah. Pierce gives it a resounding thumbsdown. “When stations attempt comedy,” he says, “the results are not usually pretty.”

SNL rates relatively well in Salt Lake, with a 4 household rating/10 share on KUCW in last May’s sweeps, and a healthy 4 rating in adults 25-54. KSL’s sports shows in the same slot averaged a 3 household rating/6 share.

By comparison, SNL posted a 7.3 household rating/16.4 share last May for WCMH Columbus (Ohio), DMA No. 32.

Moreover, the ratings are about double what syndicated programming, such as Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, would do in the same slot, Jaquint adds.

For its part, The New Normal premiered Sept. 10 to a promising 2.5 rating among adults 18-49 and 6.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen preliminary nationals.

Around half of the Salt Lake City market’s population is associated with the Mormon church. Yet Pierce says TV tastes aren’t much different than in other markets, though younger-skewing shows do well, thanks to a market that overindexes in young viewers. (Mormons’ larger families are a factor in the youthful population.)

KSL is not the power it was in recent years, due to cost-cutting and NBC’s ailing primetime. KSL and NBC may not be an ideal marriage, but it appears both parties will continue to rely on each other. NBC’s affiliate alternatives in Salt Lake are weak, says Pierce, while KSL “clearly needs the network to survive. The affiliation is important to them.”

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