H’w’d not pleased with venue for fin-syn appeal

Hollywood’s bad luck on the fin-syn front continued Wednesday when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit was selected as the venue for the decision on legal challenges to the Federal Communications Commission’s new fin-syn rules.

D.C.’s Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation selected the court in a random lottery drawing. Three other federal appeals courts were in the running: Chicago’s 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, New York’s 2nd Circuit and San Francisco’s 9th Circuit.

The Hollywood production community had been hoping the California court would be selected, apparently thinking that West Coast judges would be more sympathetic to the plight of TV producers.

The lottery drawing became necessary when parties to the fin-syn case engaged in what’s known as “venue shopping,” in a bid to find a “favorable” court.

Capital Cities/ABC filed its appeal in D.C., while CBS affiliate Shurz Communications and Quincy Newspapers Inc. — an Illinois company with NBC affiliates — filed appeals in the Chicago circuit.

Meanwhile, King World filed its appeal in New York’s court, while the D.C. public-interest law firm Media Access Project filed appeals in both New York and California.

While privately dismayed by news of the D.C. court selection, Hollywood can at least take comfort in the fact that the Chicago court was not selected as the forum for future fin-syn legal fights.

Last November, the Chi court rejected as “unreasoned and unreasonable” the FCC’s April 1991 revisions to fin-syn rules that maintained Hollywood’s lock on the program production market.

Hollywood was furious over the Chi court’s ruling, particularly since the author of the opinion, Judge Richard Posner, was hired by CBS while serving as a professor of law at the U. of Chicago to weigh in against fin-syn-related antitrust consent decrees.

Posner sent the fin-syn rules back to the FCC for revision, the result of which was the April 1 decision setting in motion plans to completely eliminate the regs.

Network sources Wednesday hinted they are relieved the fin-syn appeal will not be heard in a California court. It’s likely the networks will ask that the case be transferred back to the Chicago court, although one source said, “We think we’re going to prevail in any forum. The merits are on our side.”

Hollywood’s Coalition to Preserve the Fin-Syn Rules are planning to ask the FCC on June 17 to reconsider its decision.