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The landscape of local television in Utah is about to change dramatically - KSTU will enter the news game within six months.

The Fox-owned and -operated station will be up and running with its own news department by the beginning of 1991.The possibility of Ch. 13 initiating a newscast has been a matter of speculation for several months. But this, ahem, news comes from the top man himself, Fox Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Barry Diller.

As he spoke to the nation's television critics this week about Fox's future, he made no bones about the network's plans for its two owned-and-operated stations that don't do news now (Salt Lake City and Dallas).

"They'll have news operations within six months," Diller said without equivocation.

At least to begin with, it would appear that Ch. 13 will not be going head-to-head against Ch. 2, Ch. 4 and Ch. 5 in the news wars. Apparently, no early evening newscast is planned at this time.

And as for the nighttime broadcast, expect to see Ch. 13 doing news at 9 p.m., not 10 p.m.

Diller said Fox has set Jan. 1, 1991, as a target date to get its newscast up and running. With the exception of Sundays, FBC programs just two hours - 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. - of prime-time programming, not three like ABC, CBS and NBC.

"I think o'clock is a great time for news," Diller said. "It affords all kinds of opportunities. It's a great place to do an hour of news."

The hourlong newscast will contain both local news provided by the yet-to-be-hired KSTU staff and national news from Fox.

- BAD NEWS: Diller may have sounded completely confident that Fox would soon have its own news broadcast, but he sounded considerably less confident about the quality of the resulting product.

"I doubt it will be very good," Diller said. "At least not to begin with.

"We're talking about building a national and international news service from scratch. It will probably take us at least a year, or probably two."

- FRAGMENTATION: Even without Ch. 13 being a head-to-head competitor, KSTU's news department is sure to shake things up a bit at KUTV, KTVX and KSL.

The overall audience for news has been shrinking and has been fragmented by the proliferation of news shows on the local channels. Ch. 2 and Ch. 5 each have four daily news shows in addition to the network programs, while Ch. 4 adds another two into the mix.

If nothing else, Ch. 13's entry into the field is sure to further fragment the audience - and the advertising dollars.

- THURSDAY BATTLE: Fox Broadcasting Co. is definitely going after Thursday nights with a vengeance, but it's not simply a matter of "The Simpsons" vs. "The Cosby Show."

Over and over again, Fox executives said they don't expect Bart to beat Bill in the ratings wars. Peter Chernin, president of the Fox Entertainment Group, referred to moving "The Simpsons" to Thursdays as part of FBC's continuing "guerrilla warfare" against the Big Three networks.

"We're not interested in taking on the other guys in their areas of strength," Chernin said. "We want to move in where they're weak."

And the networks that are weak on Thursday nights are ABC and CBS.

"NBC has been so strong on Thursdays for five years . . . the other networks haven't programmed aggressively," Chernin said. "Sooner or later, `Cosby' is going to weaken - I'm not saying it's going to be this year. We're hoping to come in second. We're hoping to establish a toehold.

"In all honesty, we're not expecting more than that."

Even "Simpsons" co-executive producer Sam Simon said, "We actually have an office pool on how well we'll do on Thursday night and I can tell you, no one's predicting we'll beat `Cosby.' "

Chernin also implied that Fox's real target on NBC may be the show that follows "Cosby."

"If we can get past `Cosby' and not get killed . . . we have a great opportunity for the rest of the night, especially at 7:30. With all due respect, I don't think `A Different World' is as strong a show as `Cosby.' "

Fox has scheduled its most promising sitcom, "Babes," to take on "World."