You'd almost think that KSL's Broadcast House had been turned into a stable, there's so much champing at the bit going on over there.
Actually, what's happening at Ch. 5 isn't equine, it's avian. The soon-to-be NBC affiliate can't wait to be joined with the Peacock.KSL is ready to roll with "the largest single promotional campaign" in the station's history, according to vice president and general manager Al Henderson - all it needs now is a date when the switch will take place.
At press time, that's uncertain. The Federal Communications Commission still has to approve the purchase of KUTV-Ch. 2 by Group W/CBS, and until that happens, Ch. 5's switch to NBC and Ch. 2's switch to CBS are in limbo.
But KSL isn't going to wait any longer for its "Watch the Birdie" campaign to begin. The station has begun airing more than 100 spots featuring Ch. 5 news personalities and NBC stars.
Mark Eubank and Jay Leno. Bruce Lindsay and Conan O'Brien. Dick Nourse and Ruth Todd with Jane Pauley and Stone Phillips. Carole Mikita and Leeza Gibbons. Nick Toman and Gretchen Carr with Katie Couric. Nourse with John Larroquette. Lindsay with "Friends" stars Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox. Lindsay, Nourse and Todd with Tom Brokaw. Todd with "Law & Order" star Sam Waterston. Lindsay and Nourse with "ER" stars Noah Wyle, Juliana Margulies and George Clooney. Among others.
And Ch. 5 will air an hour-long compilation of all those set visits three times in prime time the week before the switch.
Actually, some of those spots are going to have to be reworked - they've got the wrong night and/or time for shows like "Friends," "John Larroquette" and "Mad About You," all of which are moving to new time slots.
"It's a pain," said Louise Kingston, KSL's promotions director. "If we switch Aug. 27, they will be correct for the following three weeks. Then I have to change the spots. But it's really messy."
And a couple of funny spots featuring sportscaster Craig Bolerjack have to be scrapped altogether. He traveled to the boonies of New Mexico to the set of the now-canceled "Earth 2."
"I would say they were our best. They were so fun," Kingston said.
But the general feeling at KSL is - let's make the switch. Soon.
"I wish we could have done it in July," Henderson said. "We're ready. We want to move on."
THE PRE-EMPTION QUESTION: One big question hanging over KSL's impending affiliation with NBC is - what will happen when Ch. 5 broadcasts BYU basketball games on Thursday nights?
Shows like "Friends," "Sein-feld" and "ER" will have to make way for the Cougars - but will they be broadcast by KSL at a later time?
"We had this problem with KUTV as well," said Robert J. Niles, NBC`s senior vice president of network development. "(KSL) is the BYU station, they were the Utah station. We've gone from the red-and-white issue to the blue-and-white issue."
But the situation is not unique to Salt Lake City. In many markets, network affiliates carry local sports programming that conflicts with network programming.
"Obviously, we'd like to see more time for the network. But at the same time, we realize that (KSL) is here to serve the local community," Niles said. "(KSL and BYU) have a strong tradition here. We respect that, so we found ways to sit down and work around that."
Even when pressed, Niles didn't come up with more than a vague answer about exactly how the pre-empted shows will be handled. When Ch. 2 was simply an NBC affiliate, it had considerable latitude, replaying the shows on Saturday afternoons or in late-night on Saturdays and Sundays.
Once NBC took over the station earlier this year, the network clamped down and basically said, "Air the shows when they're scheduled or don't air them at all."
Niles did seem to indicate KSL will be given some latitude.
"We'll sit down with the station. We'll find ways to air in some other places," Niles said. "If there's a mutually acceptable time period, we'll go ahead with it. . . . We may frown on doing it at 3 in the morning. It all depends on what the exact situation is."
KSL and NBC have already begun discussing the forthcoming pre-emptions. Arrangements have been made for KJZZ-Ch. 14 to carry weekend NBC sports programming while KSL broadcasts LDS General Conference.
"You don't discuss this on Tuesday before a Thursday-night situation," Niles said. "A lot of the problems you had recently at KUTV was because we didn't have a chance to do that. We know in advance where things were going."
(For the record, KUTV staffers hotly dispute that. They maintain that NBC had a list of University of Utah basketball games scheduled for Ch. 2 months in advance, and that they received last-minute notice from NBC that rescheduling of the Thursday-night lineup would not be allowed.)
Of course, KSL doesn't simply pre-empt network programming for sports - it also pre-empts for content it deems inappropriate.
"In our discussions, we talked about content a lot," Niles said. "But I've got news for you - we did that in almost any market. Local broadcasters feel very strongly about this."
Across the country, local affiliates apply local standards to network programming. And some-times pull that programming off the air.
"We try to not interfere with regular programming," said David Manookin, KSL's vice president of programming. "If there's a way to leave it alone, we leave it alone. But when we're pushed over a line then we pre-empt it."
Still, barring some truly outrageous content, KSL is promising not to mess with NBC's adult-oriented sitcoms like "Friends" and "Seinfeld."
Stay tuned . . .
GO COUGARS: NBC's Niles - a native of Michigan, a graduate of the University of Virginia and Harvard, and a resident of New Jersey - said he has always preferred BYU to the University of Utah, even when the local NBC affiliate was carrying the Utes.
"In all seriousness, I always was a BYU fan, as an observer," he said. "I always loved to watch the passing game."
Hey, and KSL's management team members were always big fans of "Friends" and "ER."
MAYBE THEY'RE SAFE: The current take on President Clinton's threat to veto the telecommunications bill being debated before Congress is that it may not force yet another sale of KUTV-Ch. 2.
To back up and review a bit, should Westinghouse succeed in purchasing CBS, the combined company would own 15 television stations that reach 33 percent of the nation's households. That's three stations and 8 percent over the current cap under federal regulations.
The proposal in Congress eliminates the restriction on the number of stations and would limit the coverage to as little as 35 percent or as much as 50 percent, depending on whose plan you're looking at. And Clinton has threatened a veto, expressing concern that this would concentrate too much media power in too few hands.
But it is now believed that the threat was not necessarily meant to maintain the 12/25 rule, but to set the new regulations at 35 percent coverage instead of 50 percent.
And, at 35 percent, Westinghouse would still be in compliance and wouldn't have to resell Ch. 2.
ANOTHER CHANGE: Still a part of the telecommunications bill is a proposal to allow a single company to own two television stations in the same market - as long as only one of those has a VHF (channels 2-13) signal.
A company could own either two UHF stations (channels 14 and above) or a VHF and a UHF.
Should it pass, how long do you suppose it will be before some local VHF station thinks about buying KJZZ-14 from Larry Miller?
Watch the birdie.