KSTU is in danger of losing its affiliation with the Fox Network, the Fox Broadcasting chief said here Tuesday during the third day of the network press tour.
"We're working with them," Kellner said of Utah's independent-minded Channel 13 following a press conference session with some 50 of the nation's television critics. "We've demonstrated our willingness to support the stations who support us. But we're not interested in carrying stations who won't share in the risks we're taking right now."And as far as Kellner is concerned, KSTU hasn't satisfactorily demonstrated its support of Fox's attempt to establish a national network program service.
"The numbers in Salt Lake City haven't been very good," Kellner said, a fact he attributes to KSTU. "They haven't been as aggressive as they need to be" in promoting and supporting Fox shows, he said.
In fact, KSTU has been playing pretty fast and loose with the Fox schedule, dropping FBC's entire Saturday night lineup and "The Late Show" - twice - and juggling the Sunday night schedule. Fox recently terminated its affiliate agreement with stations in Tampa, Kansas City, Phoenix, Minneapolis and Portland for similar sins, Kellner said.
"No network can survive without loyal support from its affiliates," he continued. "We just can't let our stations pick and choose what they're going to run. Either they're with us or they aren't."
So does this all-or-nothing attitude mean KSTU is on its way out of Fox's good graces? "We're considering it," Kellner said.
The Fox executive intimated that the only reason KSTU has lasted this long with the new network is that it is Salt Lake City's only viable independent station. Ogden's KOOG is clearly not considered by Fox to be a worthy alternative in the market.
"Right now we're trying to work something out with KSTU," he said. "If we can't the odds are we'll just pull out of the market."
Reached at his Salt Lake office, KSTU's Milt Jouflas confirmed that Fox has expressed concern over his station's free-wheeling ways.
"We want to support Fox - we really do," Jouflas said. "But my first obligation is to my station. Every decision we make is based on what we feel is best for KSTU."
And until Fox gets better programming on Saturday nights and fixes "The Late Show," Jouflas said, the best thing for KSTU is independence.
Kellner acknowledged Fox's Saturday night problems. But he insisted that stations that choose to stick with Fox through the tough times will benefit when the service comes up with a few Saturday night hits.
And KSTU? "If things don't change, they may be on their own by then," Kellner said.
* OTHERWISE, Fox Officials say they are pleased with the way the network has progressed during its first two years of existence.
"We did exceed our projected losses, but reports that we are in danger of shutting down have been blown out of proportion," Kellner said. "The losses are manageable, and we're pleased with how viewers have responded on Sunday nights."
Indeed, Fox's Sunday night viewership this summer is double what it was last year. "Fox is becoming the choice of young viewers on Sunday nights," Kellner said.
But Saturday night is another story. Two complete lineups have been offered, and rejection as been nearly complete. Of course, the same could pretty much be said of the Saturday schedules on CBS and ABC.
"There's only one network doing any business on Saturday nights - NBC," said Fox programmer Garth Ancier.
Added Kellner: "It's the strangest of all the nights on television. Viewers are confused. Nobody knows what's on, or when."
Which is why Saturday is a high priority to Fox programmers. In fact, Ancier insists that FBC won't even consider expanding its service to other nights of the week until the Saturday night problem is licked.
"We believe we'll have Saturday night squared away soon," he said. "Then we'll start thinking about expansion."
Which means they'll have plenty of time to think about it. I know, because I saw a screening of one of the shows they're counting on to solve their Saturday riddle. It's called "The Reporters," and it tries awfully hard to be a "West 57th"-ish news magazine - only "with a harder edge." But as far as news magazines go, it's much closer to The National Enquirer, with its sensational headlines ("Is Mike Tyson a homosexual?"), ambush interviews and impassioned reporters who are as inclined to hug their subjects as they are to interview them.
Ancier calls it "counter programming." I call it "under the counter pandering." Regardless, America will be able to decide for itself when "The Reporters" premieres this Saturday.
Except in Utah, where this exercise in tabloid television will premiere on KSTU Aug. 21 and will continue Sundays at 9 p.m. (I know, I know - Fox hates it when Channel 13 plays their shows in different time periods. But hey - at least they're trying.)