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Affils may preempt for ‘Deep Space’

“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” blasted off to spectacular ratings last week, leading to fears that network affiliates, offering one-time prime time preemptions of the Paramount show, may opt to continue the practice.

The spinoff of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” averaged an 18.7/25 share in 24 Nielsen overnight metered markets in its two-hour debut. It also captured first-place finishes in such major markets as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and D.C.

For many stations, “Deep Space Nine” broke ratings records and its premiere episode will likely prove to be the highest-rated syndie show yet.

With stations grabbing huge numbers (indie KPTV in Portland earned a stellar 29.4 rating/40 share in prime time), the networks could face a difficult time convincing affiliates to stick with homegrown fare.

Most affils are airing the new Par series at 7 p.m. Saturday or after their late weekend newscasts.

Only four network affils–two belonging to CBS and two to ABC — have chosen to black out network weekend programming on a weekly basis. Of those four, two have been in the practice of preempting for years.

That number is a far cry from the widespread affiliate preemptions predicted a year ago at the National Assn. of Television Program Executives confab, when Par and a spate of other distribs unveiled network-quality hours for syndication.

Still, it is a worrisome situation for the webs.

ABC affiliate relations exec VP George Newi must contend with two Florida affils that are looking to preempt.

WEAR-TV in Pensacola (the 64th-ranked market) has been continually taking an hour of prime time for itself. And, to Newi’s surprise, WTXL in Tallahassee (market No. 116) has plans to air “Deep Space Nine” at 7 p.m. Sundays in place of “Life Goes On.”

CBS affil WCPX-TV, a First Media Corp.-owned station in Orlando, Fla., will continue its five-year tradition of seizing the 8 p.m. Saturday slot for Paramount product.

The preemption in the nation’s 23rd-largest market will lead to somewhat diminished ratings for CBS’ new midseason series “Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman,” which performed strongly in its first two airings Jan. 1 and 2.

‘Hat’ on rack

Another last-minute network program scratch occurred at WGME-TV, a Guy Gannett Broadcasting Services-owned CBS affil in Portland, Maine. The market, which ranks No. 74, will use “Deep Space Nine” to replace “The Hat Squad” at 10 p.m.

For Newi and CBS Affiliate Relations prexy Tony Malara, the two preemptions they must each endure are too much.

“I don’t like it,” said Newi, who noted the web’s options are limited.

“The only thing we can do is end our affiliation, but we’re not doing that with any station that is preempting.” He quickly added, “The possibility is always there.”

Malara is just as blunt.

“Clearly, we are very unhappy after what this network has gone through with our affiliates over this past year,” he said. “To have an affiliate preempt us is ridiculous, if not unconscionable.”

He speaks of the well-publicized fray last year in which the network caved into affiliate demands to trim compensation cuts.

Under the original CBS plan, which set off a crisis, stations would have had to fork over a percentage of their compensation fees in return for some of the net’s hits.

Stations threatened to establish regional news co-ops to replace CBS News programs. They held conversations with distributors about acquiring syndie programs for prime time.

Blinking Eye

Finally, the Eye web blinked.

It went from its first proposal to trim $ 20 million-$ 25 million of the $ 120 million in annual compensation payments to a new proposal slashing only $ 10 million. Also, CBS created $ 10 million in additional local inventory for stations and a $ 4 million pool to boost late night clearances.

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