Consolidation has L.A. stations hopping

All the station swapping in Los Angeles will mean a whole lot of program hopping this fall.

The new syndicated version of “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire,” for example, will bump “Hollywood Squares” from its 7:30 p.m. time slot on KCBS starting Sept. 16.

At the same time, the ailing “Squares” will move to another 7:30 p.m. slot in L.A. — on KCBS’ new sibling, KCAL.

These program moves come in the wake of an unprecedented wave of consolidation within the L.A. station community that has left the market with four duopolies. Two of them even compete within the same general market space.

Viacom, which owns CBS O&O KCBS, forged a duopoly this year after acquiring KCAL, while Fox (which owns KTTV) created its duopoly last year when it bought the former Chris-Craft stations, including local UPN affiliate KCOP.

Univision, meanwhile, owns two Spanish-language stations, and NBC, which has general market O&O KNBC, added two Spanish-language L.A. stations to its portfolio after acquiring Telemundo (it will divest one of those stations to comply with regulations).

In another multiple ownership situation, Tribune owns both WB affil KTLA and the Los Angeles Times.

When Fox’s deal for KCOP closed last year, it was well after the traditional program buying season was over. Fox execs worked diligently to snap up duopoly rights to syndicated programming that had been bought for the stations separately.

Viacom is in much the same situation this year, having closed on KCAL after program buys for fall were locked up.

In the case of “Hollywood Squares,” the move is all in the Viacom family, and there is general agreement that the move would be best for the show, which is in the process of being reworked. The show is distributed by King World, which merged with CBS before CBS was acquired by Viacom.

The program will be part of a new game show block on KCAL, starting with Tribune-distributed “Family Feud” at 6:30 p.m., followed by Sony’s new Donny Osmond-hosted “Pyramid” at 7 p.m. “Millionaire,” hosted by Meredith Viera, is distributed by Buena Vista TV.

A block of relationship-oriented shows will lead into the gamers on KCAL.

The “Squares” move is not likely to be the last synergistic program shift in the Viacom duopoly. Nor was it the first.

Last week, the company announced that CBS network series “48 Hours” and “Big Brother” will air on KCAL on three occasions during August and September when the programs otherwise would have been preempted by KCBS.

Move will represent the first time in Los Angeles that nationally broadcast series will air in their regular time periods on a station other than their traditional network-affiliated station.

KCBS and KCAL prexy-G.M. Don Corsini said in a statement that the “48 Hours” and “Big Brother” move is “a perfect example of our duopoly breaking new ground and offering multiple programming choices of great interest to the communities we serve.”

“This is the first of many moves we intend to make in the months and years ahead to use our duopoly to better serve the diverse interests of the viewing public,” Corsini added.

Fox stepping back

In the meantime, Fox, which experimented with airing some shows on both of its L.A. stations in the last year, is moving away from that strategy this fall.

The off-net run of “Seinfeld,” which appeared on both KTTV and KCOP last season, stopped airing on KTTV last month. The comedy will continue airing exclusively on KCOP in Los Angeles as part of Fox’s strategy to distinguish the two stations.

Syndie talker “Ricki Lake” likewise will air just on KCOP after appearing on both Fox-owned stations last season.

“There will be some instances this year where some shows appear on two stations, but by and large each show will be on one station,” said Frank Cicha, VP of programming for the Fox Station Group. “We’re continuing to create separate identities.”

News slots a battlefront

To that end, Fox earlier this year shifted the 10 p.m. newscast on KCOP to 11 p.m., to avoid competing head-to-head with KTTV’s 10 o’clock news.

In L.A., like most markets where News Corp. owns a Fox station with a strong news presence as well as a UPN outlet, the UPN affil schedules shows targeted toward younger demos (mainly 18-34), whereas the Fox station targets the 18-49 and 25-54 demos.

Cicha said, for example, that he has high hopes for the debut of the off-net run of young-skewing comedy “That ’70s Show” on KCOP this fall.

Furthermore, the Fox affiliated stations, including KTTV, run a healthy dose of syndicated court shows adjacent to news.

“In many ways the strategy hasn’t changed,” Cicha said. “It should always be to put your best shows in the most important time periods, whether you own one station, two stations or whatever. It’s still about figuring out ways to maximize your product.”

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