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1994 HAS BEEN A YEAR FULL OF TV SURPRISES

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When 1994 began, among the few things that were sacrosanct in the world of broadcast television were the network-affiliate relationship.

Oh, every once in a while a station would switch from one network to another. But such changes were so rare as to be distinct aberrations from the norm.After all, many network-affiliate relationships dated back decades. Many to the beginning of television itself.

Enter Rupert Murdoch and the Fox Broadcasting Co.

In a deal that shook the television world, Fox swiped a dozen major affiliates away from the Big Three networks in May - eight from CBS, three from NBC and one from ABC. And the effects of that deal continue to reverberate across the country.

When it first happened, no one in little ol' Salt Lake City thought it would have any affect here. Little did they know.

One immediate influence was that it quickly drove up the price of television stations. And increased the Big Three's interest in those stations.

While it would have been unthinkable in 1993, in 1994 NBC purchased 88 percent of KUTV-Ch. 2 - and paid more than $110 million to do it.

And, because of fallout from the Fox deal in Dallas, Utah's Bonneville International - faced with the loss of its CBS affiliation in Seattle - announced it would sell off KIRO-TV in that city.

At the same time, CBS's attempt to recoup from the Fox raid led to a complicated series of changes in Philadelphia, Miami, Denver and even little ol' Salt Lake City - and the startling announcement (however poorly kept a secret it was) that KUTV would be traded to CBS.

Meaning KSL-Ch. 5, the longtime CBS affiliate, will become an NBC affiliate sometime next year.

Who would've thought?

And that was just the biggest of several unexpected occurrences during 1994, which was full of both highlights and lowlights.

- The single strangest thing seen on television during 1994 was the bizarre slow-speed chase of O.J. Simpson in that white Ford Bronco.

What followed was almost equally strange - saturation coverage of the Simpson hearings and every tiny tidbit anyone could dig up.

Sadly, there was little difference between the tone of the coverage on the tabloids like "Geraldo," "A Current Affair" and "Hard Copy," and the supposedly mainline news shows on ABC, CBS and NBC.

- Thanks to the second strangest event of 1994, the Winter Olympics were a huge hit on CBS in February.

Overshadowing it all, of course, was the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan showdown - a matchup between a skater who would stop at nothing to secure a gold medal and a skater who lost much of her "America's sweetheart" image when she whined incessantly about losing that medal to a teenager from the Ukraine, Oksana Baiul.

- The biggest star to come out of the Olympics? David Letterman's mother, Dorothy.

Her interviews with everyone from Kerrigan to Dan Janssen to first lady Hillary Clinton were such a hoot that cable channel Comedy Central tried to sign her for her own show. (She declined.)

- Speaking of David Letterman, he continued to rule late-night television. In response, Jay Leno increasingly mimicked Letterman's style.

- Locally, there was more news than ever. KSTU-Ch. 13 expanded its 9 p.m. newscast to an hour, and the early morning news became a three-way battle when KSL-Ch. 5 started a new hourlong broadcast in the time slot.

- The drama series, considered dead by many TV insiders and observers, made a big comeback.

NBC's "ER" is the hottest show on television, and it was joined by such quality products as "Chicago Hope," "Picket Fences," "The X-Files," "NYPD Blue," "Homicide: Life on the Streets," "Northern Exposure" and the venerable "Murder, She Wrote."

The real winners were the viewers.

- As a direct result of the resurgence of the drama, the glut of news magazines finally began to take its toll.

By year's end, Fox has not only dropped its only entry in the genre, "Front Page," but scrapped plans for a successor. A CBS summer tryout failed. ABC had announced plans to drop "Turning Point" as a weekly show. And several others were in ratings trouble.

Again, the real winners were the viewers.

- CBS almost merged with QVC. (Would that have created QVCBS?)

But even though that deal fell through, rumors swirled that CBS might merge with Disney. Or with Viacom. Or with Time Warner. Or with Turner Broadcasting.

Or that Disney, Viacom, Time Warner or Turning Broadcasting might merge with NBC.

The only thing that is certain for the future is that something is going to happen with CBS, NBC or both.

- The Republican landslide in November may also change the television landscape.

First, the Federal Communications Commission seems more certain than ever to relax its TV station ownership rules, meaning big companies will be able to increase their holdings, controlling more of the nation's airwaves.

And second, incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich is making noise about ending federal subsidies to the Public Broadcasting Service, which would hit not only such allegedly "liberal" targets as "Frontline" but everything from "Masterpiece Theatre" to "Mystery!," "Barney" to "Sesame Street."

- After raising a big stink last year with bad language and partial nudity, "NYPD Blue" was back in the news again when series star David Caruso quit to go do movies.

Fan reaction toward Caruso was generally negative, and the show has had higher ratings than ever since Jimmy Smits joined the cast.

Michael Moriarty quit "Law & Order" after battling Attorney General Janet Reno over violence on television - which was sort of odd because "Order" is not a violent TV show. Moriarty was replaced by Sam Waterston, and the show went on without a hitch.

And on "Northern Exposure," Rob Morrow is in the process of being written out. It's too early to say how the show will fare with Paul Provenza as the new town doctor.

- The Roseanne and Tom Arnold show finally played itself out when Rosie dumped Tom both personally and professionally.

And, in a bit of good news, both made-for-TV movies about the bizarre couple bombed in the ratings.

- The NFL - or at least the NFC portion thereof - switched from CBS to Fox in the fall with a minimum of disruption.

(Although Terry Bradshaw became a near-total buffoon on Fox's pregame show.)

The $1.6 billion purchase of the NFL didn't do anything to help Fox's lagging prime-time ratings, however.

- "Star Trek: The Next Generation" - the most successful syndicated hourlong drama in television history - warped off the TV screen and onto the movie screen after seven seasons.

- The only place you could find baseball this fall was on PBS.

The major league strike wiped out the playoffs and the World Series, while Ken Burns' nine-part documentary "Baseball" did pretty good ratings for the public stations.

- NBC shocked a lot of observers - and upset more than a few fans - by switching "Frasier" to Tuesday nights to do battle with "Roseanne."

Then ABC pulled a surprise of its own, flip-flopping "Roseanne" and top-rated "Home Improvement."

In the end, all three shows did quite well in their new time slots - all ending up in the Top 10 many weeks.

- The winner of the 1994 Super-hype Award goes to "Scarlett,' the eight-hour miniseries based on the badly written Alexandra Ripley sequel to "Gone With the Wind."

The miniseries itself was mediocre at best, and while the ratings were good, they weren't great.

- 1994 marked the revival of both "The Rockford Files" and "Cagney & Lacey," which both did blockbuster ratings in their TV movie returns. More TV movies with these detectives are already on their way.

- The press was abuzz with controversy over same-sex kisses on three prime-time hits. ABC showed the one on "Roseanne," Fox didn't show the one on "Melrose Place," and the producers of "Northern Exposure" didn't even shoot one at the conclusion of the gay "wedding" for CBS to make a decision about.

And television also provided two of the creepiest kisses ever.

One was the long, passionate smooch between Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley-Jackson at the annual MTV Awards - which was enough to send chills (of horror) up and down your spine.

The other came at the conclusion of Larry King's interview of Marlon Brando on CNN. The two kissed on the lips - an unfortunately, revoltingly unforgettable TV moment.

- Surprisingly, one of the truly great TV treats of 1994 was on MTV - the third edition of "The Real World."

One of the seven strangers picked to live in a house and have their lives taped turned out to be Pedro Zamora, a gay 22 year old infected with the HIV. More than anyone before him, Zamora humanized the struggle of AIDS victims - and he used what remained of his life to educate young people so they could avoid becoming victims.

Zamora died in November, the day after the final episode of "Real World III" aired.