Fox hounds syndie scene

Duopoly changes way suppliers, local stations compete

Meet one of the most powerful men in syndication — and you’ve probably never heard of him.

Frank Cicha, a 38-year-old Fox TV exec who came up through the research ranks and has up until now shunned the limelight, buys and skeds the programming for Fox Stations — the group with the widest reach in the country.

Earlier this year, Fox parent News Corp. closed on its deal to buy 10 Chris-Craft stations for $3.7 billion.

The acquisition brought Fox’s station count to more than 30 outlets and made Fox, alone among TV players, the owner of two TV stations in both New York and Los Angeles.

The choices he is now making will impact not only how well Fox integrates the Chris Craft stations into the News Corp. colossus, but also how local stations and program suppliers compete in an increasingly consolidated world.

“From a purely real estate standpoint, they control two stations in New York and in L.A. It’s not that hard to figure out how important they are and will be,” one syndie topper says.

Cicha, VP of programming for the Fox station group, said he began thinking a year ago about improving dayparts on all of his company’s owned-stations, without sacrificing existing program success.

“We’ve been thinking about the changes since literally the deal with Chris Craft was announced last August. I would say it got a little more serious after NATPE,” says Cicha, who reports to Mitchell Stern, chairman-CEO of Fox TV Stations.

“At that point the challenge was getting syndicators to work with us because we didn’t have the contractual duopoly rights for this season to run programs bought for one station on another.”

In addition to the Gotham and L.A. duopolies, the Chris- Craft deal brought another in Phoenix. Fox already had a duopoly situation in Dallas.

“This is really the big year we’ll have to deal with duopoly stuff,” says New York-bred Cicha, who is in his 11th year with Fox. “Going forward we’ll be looking for duopoly rights for everything.”

Over the last few months, Cicha has quietly managed to convince normally hard-nosed syndie toppers to revisit the fineprint of their contracts and, with very few exceptions, to allow for their shows to be utilized by both Fox-owned stations in key markets.

There is some precedent for program-sharing in local markets where stations had limited management agreements so the community is not in completely uncharted territory.

Some of the major changes Cicha is making to his local skeds, effective Sept. 17, are:

  • The first time “Seinfeld” offnet reruns will be shown on two different stations in Los Angeles.

    Distribber Columbia TriStar is making a second run of the show available across the country. In L.A., former Chris-Craft station KCOP UPN 13 bought the show in its current syndie cycle and will air it at 7:30 p.m. The second run will air on KTTV Fox 11 at 11:30 p.m.

    In addition, the traditional two-hour Fox Kids block in L.A. has been shifted from KTTV to KCOP, from 2-4 p.m.

    Finally, off-net sitcom blocks in L.A. have been reworked. KTTV will run “The Simpsons,” followed by a new entry this fall, “King of the Hill.” “Drew Carey” and another run of “The Simpsons” follow.

    KCOP’s lineup in the block has morphed several times in recent seasons. This season, the 6 p.m. run of “Blind Date” will stay put; “3rd Rock” will move over from KTTV, and “Frasier” and “Seinfeld” follow.

  • In Gotham, “Seinfeld” will air on WNYW Fox 5, at 7:30 p.m. and the new second run will air in latenight, serving as bookends to the station’s primetime network lineup.

    WWOR UPN 9 will air shows with a traditionally black following, starting at 6 with “Steve Harvey,” which is new to syndication this fall, followed by “Moesha,” another run of “Harvey” and then “Jamie Foxx.”

    “Spin City” will move from that station to WNYW Fox 5. Skein will air in a 4-5:30 block that also includes “3rd Rock” and new-to-syndication “Just Shoot Me.” At 5:30, “King of the Hill” airs, followed by “Simpsons,” another “Just Shoot Me,” “Simpsons” again and then “Seinfeld.”

    “They (Fox) are not competing with themselves, which is very smart,” one syndicator says. “They’re able to match programming better and take a competitor out of the marketplace. They’ve done a great job — in a very short time.”

While Cicha says programming this season did not involve a last-minute shopping spree, going forward the station group will need “a ton” of programming. He’ll be looking to all distribs as suppliers, and Fox’s syndie arm Twentieth Television is stepping up its contributions.

“Our corporate mandate is to expand our programming efforts, which include adding people at a number of different levels and adding development talent on a contract basis,” says Twentieth Television prexy and COO Bob Cook, who also reports to Stern.

Cook is experimenting with regional tests of programs on local Fox stations and eventually expects to do so year-round. The former Chris-Craft stations will be incorporated into that process.

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