The countdown to the March 14 unveiling of the revised financial interest and syndication rules has begun. The flag was dropped last week when the five-member FCC received an “options paper” from the FCC staff for changing the regs.

Sources said the proposal seemed to carry the imprint of FCC chairman Alfred Sikes who, along with commissioner James Quello, is regarded more “pro-network” than commissioners Ervin Duggan, Sherrie Marshall and Andrew Barrett.

The 21-page document was highly critical of Hollywood’s favored “two-step” process, allowing the nets to negotiate a financial stake in programs only after shows created by indie producers are placed on net skeds.

The staff document also said that “increased opportunities for network participation in foreign markets appears highly desirable,” although staffers hedged on whether nets should be given unlimited entry into foreign syndication.

Fox Broadcasting would emerge a winner if the FCC adopts the paper’s recommendation to continue to encourage development of “emerging networks.” One commission source said it’s likely the FCC will change its definition of a network so that finsyn rules won’t apply to the weblet.

FCC sources stressed that the staff options merely set the parameters for the debate.

Quello, contacted late last week by VARIETY, said he had not yet read the report. Asked to predict the outcome, he said, “No one is sure.”

Meanwhile, the intense finsyn lobbying struggle continues. NBC recently hired a Chicago lawfirm that has former four-term Illinois Gov. James Thompson as a partner.

Thompson, who appointed commissioner Barrett to the Illinois Commerce Commission in 1980, presumably will be used to arm-twist Barrett on finsyn.

Motion Picture Assn. of America attorney Diane Killory downplayed the Thompson hiring, saying she has “complete faith in the integrity of Commissioner Barrett.”

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