FCC’S Marshall folds syn-fin hand

Hollywood’s most reliable fin-syn ally at the Federal Communications Commission has withdrawn from further participation in the issue and is entertaining a possible private sector job offer from a Los Angeles-based law firm.

FCC member Sherrie Marshall filed what’s called a “recusal” notice, in which she states she will not participate in matters related to cable and broadcast TV , including fin-syn. The notice also indicates Marshall has had employment discussions with the L.A. law firm Latham & Watkins and that she will not vote on FCC matters in which the firm has a vested interest.

The timing of Marshall’s recusal announcement couldn’t be worse for Hollywood , which is again fighting to preserve the treasured fin-syn rules that have prevented the Big Three networks’ unfettered entry into TV program production and syndication.

In 1991, it was Marshall who helped build a three-vote coalition consisting of herself and FCC members Andrew Barrett and Ervin Duggan that thwarted then-FCC chairman Al Sikes’ bid to eliminate the fin-syn rules. Marshall’s skillful behind-the-scenes efforts at preserving a semblance of the regs drew the wrath of network lobbyists and a not-so-subtle admonition from then-White House Chief of Staff John Sununu.

The 3-2 fin-syn vote (commish James Quello joined Sikes in dissent) also prompted a flurry of reports about a “lack of collegiality” at the FCC.

The 1991 fin-syn rules were overturned in November by a Chicago federal court , which found the revisions to be “unreasoned and unreasonable.” However, the court has given the FCC until April to craft new regulations that pass muster.

Marshall’s recusal from media-related issues clouds an already-murky situation at an FCC that has been without a chairman since Sikes’ departure Jan. 19. Her recusal from the fin-syn scene also raises the question of whether Barrett and Duggan will continue to forcefully fend off network efforts to kill the rules.

If Marshall joins Latham and Watkins, it’s unclear whether she would be based in Los Angeles or in the firm’s D.C. branch, where former FCC chairman Mark Fowler is based. Marshall was traveling yesterday and unavailable for comment.

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