Just when it looked like fans of Married . . . With Children and It's Garry Shandling's Show were going to have to look elsewhere for their Sunday evening entertainment, Fox television network executives and officials at their local affiliate, KSTU, worked out a compromise that will keep Fox in Utah on Ch. 13.I know, I know - I told you just a couple of days ago that the prospects weren't good for a resolution between the network and the station following the recent announcement that KSTU was not going to re-sign with Fox for the new fall season. But both sides have relented, with KSTU agreeing to carry Fox's entire Sunday night line-up intact, and Fox agreeing to allow Ch. 13 to pre-empt its Saturday night programming and "The Late Show."
The marriage, once seemingly doomed to divorce, has been reconciled.
"We just needed a little marriage counseling," joked Fox President Jamie Kellner during a phone interview Wednesday morning. "The two parties weren't communicating very well, and so we just needed to sit down and talk to each other face to face."
That meeting came last Thursday, when Kellner flew to Salt Lake City to visit with KSTU general manager Milt Jouflas, who had expressed grave concern over the inability of Fox shows to draw a respectable audience in Utah. "We walked in not quite knowing what to expect from each other," Kellner said. "I think we all walked away friends."
Kellner said Jouflas opened his eyes to some ideas that may prove invaluable to Fox down the road. "I guess we were kind of expecting people all around the country to react the same way to our programming and our promotion," Kellner said. "Milt shed a lot of light on the notion that all stations and markets aren't the same. A lot of our stations are young stations and they have unique problems. We need to help them deal with those problems, not create new ones for them."
Which is why Fox is going to be sending some of its people to Salt Lake during the next few months to work with KSTU officials and develop Fox promotions designed specifically with the Utah audience in mind. "We're going to roll out the red carpet for Utah," Kellner said. "It's now our project to do everything we can to bring Fox shows in Salt Lake City up to the level where they are performing in other parts of the country."
Ultimately, that commitment is what convinced Jouflas to patch things up with Fox. "I had decided that we were absolutely not going to continue with Fox," the KSTU exective said. "But they made it clear they were willing to make a sizable commitment to Salt Lake City, and they sold me on it. That's why we're willing to give them another try."
If the specialized attention works in Utah, Kellner said his staff has identified seven other markets around the country where they are going to try the same approach. "This may be the next big step forward for Fox Broadcasting," Kellner said, "and we'll prove what we can do and what we can't do pretty quickly. If the ratings go up you'll say we're men of our word, and we did what we said we'd do."
And if they don't . . . well, there's only so much a marriage counselor can do.