John Lane, a Washington, D.C. communications attorney who, during his long career, helped create Hollywood’s firstrun TV syndication industry by influencing regulations including the primetime access rule, died Aug. 18 of congestive heart failure. He was 90.
Lane was involved in numerous far-reaching decisions on behalf of clients in the broadcast industry, public safety communications and other areas. Clients included Westinghouse Broadcasting Co. and independent TV stations, for whom Lane challenged the dominance of the three major networks over primetime programming and syndication rights.
Lane is widely regarded within the television industry as the “father of the primetime access rule,” the reg created in 1970 by the Federal Communications Commission that limited network-owned or affiliated stations to no more than three hours of network or off-network programs during the hours of 7-11 p.m. He petitioned the FCC for client Westinghouse and argued persuasively for the rule, which spurred development of local programming by stations while also jump-starting the firstrun syndie business.
Although the regulation was repealed by the FCC in 1996, the format it created is still observed by the networks and their affiliates today.
Lane had an equally large influence on the government’s creation of its financial interest and syndication rules that prohibited the networks from owning syndication units. He participated in long-running legal battles with the networks over the regs for a committee of independent program producers.
On behalf of another client, President Jimmy Carter, Lane again took on the three networks after they declined Carter’s 1979 request to sell him airtime to announce his campaign for re-election. Lane argued before the FCC that the president should expect “reasonable access” to the airwaves in matters of public interest. The FCC decided in favor of President Carter, a decision upheld by an appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lane’s practice also included public safety communications. His activities on behalf of the Assn. of Public Safety Communications Officials included a landmark case to reserve space on the UHF spectrum for two-way radio communication by local police and fire departments.
John Dennis Lane was born in Norwalk, Conn. He graduated from the Georgetown U. School of Foreign Service in 1943 and during WWII served in the Marine Corps in the Pacific.
Returning to Washington following the war, he graduated from Georgetown law school in 1948 and worked on the staff of Sen. Brien McMahon (D-Conn.) until the lawmaker’s death in 1952. He then founded the D.C. law firm of Hedrick and Lane, which later merged to form Wilkes, Artis, Hedrick & Lane.
Lane was very active in the legal community, chairing several committees of the American Bar Assn. and helping to evaluate nominees for judgeships in the U.S. court system. He also served for several years as president of the Federal Communications Bar Assn. During the Clinton administration, he was named a member of the White House Council to advise the president on the appointment of judicial nominees.
His wife of 61 years, Elizabeth Gallaher Lane, died in 2011. He is survived by five children, a brother and sister, and 11 grandchildren.