Few affiliates likely to pre-empt episode

The threat of Fox affiliates pre-empting the April 27 episode of “Ally McBeal” is losing steam, as at least one major station that was considering preemption has decided against the move.

Fox stations were angered by the announcement that characters from the 9-10 p.m. “Ally McBeal” will appear on ABC’s 10-11 p.m. “The Practice” as part of a crossover story stunt. David E. Kelley is the creator of both series, which are both produced by 20th Century Fox Television.

Kevin O’Brien, general manager of KTVU-TV San Francisco, said he thought long and hard about pre-empting the episode of “Ally McBeal,” but in the end he decided to carry the show as planned.

Fox affiliates fear that fans of Fox’s new hit “Ally McBeal” will be compelled to switch to ABC at 10 p.m., when many Fox stations run their local news.

“I was thinking of not running it, but I realize now that it is out of Fox’s control,” said O’Brien. “They have a gun to their heads. The culprit is not Fox, its David E. Kelley. There are many affiliates that want to pre-empt it, but my recommendation is not to pre-empt it.”

Fox affiliate board president Murray Green, general manager of WFLX-TV West Palm Beach, Fla., sent a letter to members of the affiliate board and to all Fox affiliates making them aware of the crossover stunt and advising stations that feel strongly about it to call and write the network.

“I think it’s terrible,” said Cullie Tarleton, an affiliate board member and general manager of WCCB-TV Charlotte, N.C. “The only people who will benefit will be ABC, its affiliates and David E. Kelley. I’m disappointed that Fox didn’t put up more of a fight, but they were trying to get as many original episodes as possible for the May sweeps, and this was one of Kelley’s conditions.”

Tarleton said that his station will run the episode in question as scheduled, and he added that it is not a role for the affiliate board to advise affiliates to pre-empt a show. However, he hoped that Fox stations will protest enough so that if a similar situation arises in the future, Fox will not allow a crossover episode that steers viewers to a competing network.

“This sets a dangerous precedent,” Tarleton said.

One station group executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he felt that few, if any, stations would pre-empt “Ally McBeal” because the show is so highly rated.

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