A judge yesterday denied attempts by Hollywood’s production community and the State of California to become party to a case involving network efforts to repeal antitrust restrictions that mirrored old Federal Communications Commission financial interest and syndication rules.

The decision involves the Big Three webs’ challenge to longstanding antitrust consent decrees entered into by the networks in the late 1970s with the U.S. Dept. of Justice. The nets signed the consent decrees in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles after Justice alleged that the TV networks had the ability to unfairly extract profits from Hollywood programmers.

The consent decrees essentially mirrored FCC finsyn rules that had been adopted in 1970. The FCC relaxed the finsyn rules last year, however, prompting the networks to ask the L.A. court to toss out the consent decree restrictions.

Kelleher presides

Judge Robert Kelleher is presiding over the consent decree case, and yesterday dismissed requests to intervene in the case by both California Governor Pete Wilson and Hollywood’s Coalition to Preserve the Finsyn Rules.

In rejecting the case, Kelleher suggested that both Hollywood and California could file suit to obtain relief, an option that Hollywood supporters would consider a poor substitute to intervention in the immediate case.

Diane Killory, attorney for the Hollywood finsyn coalition, said she is “disappointed” by the court’s decision. “We’re considering our options,” she said.

Mickey Gardner, a D.C. attorney who represents Hollywood’s finsyn interests, said he is “very surprised” the judge did not allow the State of California to participate in the case, since program production is so vital to the state’s economy.

Ruling on merits

Kelleher will now rule on the merits of whether the consent decrees should be lifted. The Justice Dept. has tentatively reversed its late 1970s position, and now agrees with the networks’ claim that the finsyn rules are no longer necessary.

The L.A. case parallels a similar case now being played out in Chicago, where the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals is deciding whether to uphold the FCC’s relaxed finsyn rules.

The networks are hoping the two courts eliminate all the regs, which for more than 20 years prohibited the webs from taking a financial interest in or from reaping revenues from the syndication of non-network produced programs.

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