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Fox Broadcasting Company

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230px-FOX_wordmark.svgThe Fox Broadcasting Company (referred to on-air as Fox, and alternately as the Fox Network in off-air usage; stylized as FOX), is an American commercial broadcast television network that is owned by the Fox Entertainment Group division of 21st Century Fox. The network is headquartered on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, with additional major offices and production facilities at the Fox Television Center in Los Angeles and in Manhattan. It is the third largest major television network in the world, based on total revenues, assets and international coverage.

Launched on October 9, 1986 as a competitor to the three longer-established U.S. television networks, ABC, NBC and CBS, Fox went on to become the most successful venture at a fourth television network. It was the highest-rated broadcast network in the 18–49 demographic from 2004 to 2012, and earned the position as the most-watched network in the United States overall in total viewership during the 2007–08 season.

Fox and its affiliated companies operate many entertainment channels in international markets, although these do not necessarily air the same programming as the U.S. network. Most viewers in Canada have access to at least one U.S.-based Fox affiliate, either over-the-air or through a pay television provider; although most of Fox’s prime time programming, as well as its National Football League telecasts, is subject to simultaneous substitution regulations for cable and satellite providers imposed by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to protect rights held by domestically based networks.

The network is named after sister company 20th Century Fox, and indirectly for producer William Fox, who founded one of the movie studio’s predecessors, Fox Film. Fox is a member of the North American Broadcasters Association and the National Association of Broadcasters.

History – Origins

27MEADOWS-OBIT-blog42720th Century Fox had been involved in television production as early as the 1950’s, producing several syndicated programs during this era. In November 1956, the studio purchased a 50% interest in the NTA Film Network, an early syndicator of films and television programs. Following the demise of the DuMont Television Network in August of that year after becoming mired in severe financial problems, NTA was launched as a new “fourth network.” 20th Century Fox would also produce original content for the NTA network. The film network effort would fail after a few years, but 20th Century Fox continued to dabble in television through its production arm, TCF Television Productions, producing series (such as Perry Mason) for the three major broadcast television networks (ABC, NBC and CBS).

1980’s: Establishment of the Network Foundations

The Fox network’s foundations were laid in March 1985 through News Corporation’s $250 million purchase of a 50% interest in TCF Holdings, the parent company of the 20th Century Fox film studio. In May 1985, News Corporation, a media company owned by Australian newspaper magnate Rupert Murdoch that had mainly served as a newspaper publisher at the time of the TCF Holdings deal, agreed to pay $2.55 billion to acquire independent television stations in six major U.S. cities from the John Kluge-run broadcasting company Metromedia: WNEW-TV in New York City, WTTG in Washington, D.C., KTTV in Los Angeles, KRIV-TV in Houston, WFLD-TV in Chicago and KRLD-TV in Dallas. A seventh station, ABC affiliate WCVB-TV in Boston, was part of the original transaction but was spun off to the Hearst Broadcasting subsidiary of the Hearst Corporation in a separate, concurrent deal as part of a right of first refusal related to that station’s 1982 sale to Metromedia (two years later, News Corporation acquired WXNE-TV in that market from the Christian Broadcasting Network and changed its call letters to WFXT).

Beginning of the Network

2000In October 1985, 20th Century Fox announced its intentions to form a fourth television network that would compete with ABC, CBS and NBC. The plans were to use the combination of the Fox studios and the former Metromedia stations to both produce and distribute programming. Organizational plans for the network were held off until the Metromedia acquisitions cleared regulatory hurdles. Then, in December 1985, Rupert Murdoch agreed to pay $325 million to acquire the remaining equity in TCF Holdings from his original partner, Marvin Davis. The purchase of the Metromedia stations was approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in March 1986; the call letters of the New York City and Dallas outlets were subsequently changed respectively to WNYW and KDAF. These first six stations, then broadcasting to a combined 22% of the nation’s households, became known as the Fox Television Stations group. Except for KDAF (which was sold to Renaissance Broadcasting in 1995 and became a WB affiliate at the same time), all of the original owned-and-operated stations (“O&Os”) are still part of the Fox network today. Like the core O&O group, Fox’s affiliate body initially consisted of independent stations (a few of which had maintained affiliations with ABC, NBC, CBS and/or DuMont earlier in their existences). The local charter affiliate was, in most cases, that market’s top-rated independent; however, Fox opted to affiliate with a second-tier independent in markets where a more established independent station declined the affiliation (such as Denver, Phoenix and St. Louis).

Fox launched on the evening of October 9, 1986. Its inaugural program was a late-night talk show, The Late Show, which was hosted by legendary comedienne Joan Rivers. After a strong start, The Late Show quickly eroded in the ratings; it was never able to overtake NBC stalwart The Tonight Show – whose then-host Johnny Carson, upset over her becoming his late-night competitor, banned Rivers (a frequent Tonight guest and substitute host) from appearing on his show (Rivers would not appear on Tonight again until February 2014, seven months before her death, when Jimmy Fallon took over as its host). By early 1987, Rivers (and her then-husband and the show’s original executive producer, Edgar Rosenberg) quit The Late Show after disagreements with the network over the show’s creative direction; the program then began to be hosted by a succession of guest hosts. After that point, some stations that affiliated with Fox in the weeks before the April 1987 launch of its prime time lineup (such as WCGV-TV in Milwaukee) signed affiliation agreements with the network on the condition that they would not have to carry The Late Show due to the program’s weak ratings.

imageThe network expanded its programming into prime time on April 5, 1987, inaugurating its Sunday night lineup with the premieres of the sitcom Married… with Children and the sketch comedy series The Tracey Ullman Show. Fox added one new show per week over the next several weeks, with the drama 21 Jump Street, and comedies Mr. President and Duet completing its Sunday schedule. On July 11, the network rolled out its Saturday night schedule with the two-hour movie premiere of Werewolf. Three other series were added to the Saturday lineup over the next three weeks: The New Adventures of Beans Baxter, Karen’s Song and Down and Out in Beverly Hills (the latter being an adaptation of the film of the same name). Both Karen’s Song and Down and Out in Beverly Hills were canceled by the start of the 1987–88 television season, the network’s first fall launch, and were replaced by Second Chance and Women in Prison.

In regards to its late night lineup, Fox had already decided to cancel The Late Show, and had a replacement series in development called The Wilton North Report, when the former series began a ratings resurgence with its final guest host, comedian Arsenio Hall. Wilton North lasted just a few weeks, however, and the network was unable to reach a deal with Hall to return as host when it hurriedly revived The Late Show in early 1988. The show went back to having guest hosts, eventually selecting Ross Shafer as its permanent host, only for it to be canceled for good by October 1988, while Hall signed a deal with Paramount Television to develop his own syndicated late night talk show, The Arsenio Hall Show. Although it had modest successes in Married… with Children and The Tracy Ullman Show, several affiliates were disappointed with Fox’s largely underperforming programming lineup during the network’s first three years; KMSP-TV in Minneapolis-St. Paul and KPTV in Portland, Oregon disaffiliated from Fox in 1988 (with KITN (now WFTC) and KPDX respectively replacing those stations as Fox affiliates), citing that the network’s weaker program offerings were hampering viewership of their stronger syndicated slate.

The network added a third night of programming, on Mondays, at the start of the 1989–90 television season, a season that heralded the start of a turnaround for Fox. That season saw the debut of a midseason replacement series, The Simpsons (an animated series that originated as a series of shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show); ranked at a three-way tie for 29th place in the Nielsen ratings, it became a breakout hit and was the first Fox series to break the Top 30. That year, Fox also first introduced its Saturday night combination of Cops and America’s Most Wanted, which would become staples on the network for just over two decades. Meanwhile, Married… with Children – which stood out from other family sitcoms of the period as it centered on a dysfunctional lower-middle-class family, whose patriarch often openly loathed his failures and being saddled with a wife and two children – saw viewer interest increase substantially after, in an ironic twist, Michigan homemaker Terry Rakolta lobbied to force Fox to cancel the series after objecting to risque humor and sexual content featured in a 1989 episode. Married…‍ ’​s success led it to become the network’s longest-running live-action sitcom, airing for 11 seasons.

2000-20101990’s: Rise into mainstream success and beginnings of rivalry with the Big Three
Fox survived where DuMont and other attempts to start a fourth network failed because it programmed just under the number of hours to be legally considered a network by the FCC. This allowed Fox to make money in ways forbidden to the established networks (for instance, it did not have to adhere to the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules that were in effect at the time), since during its first years it was considered to be merely a large group of stations. By comparison, DuMont was hampered by numerous regulatory roadblocks, most notably a ban on acquiring additional stations – during an era when the FCC had much tighter ownership limits for television stations (limiting broadcasters to a maximum of five stations nationwide) than it did when Fox launched – since its minority owner, Paramount Pictures owned two television stations (one of which had already disaffiliated from the network). Combined with the three television stations owned by network parent DuMont Laboratories, this put DuMont at the legal limit at the time. Also, Murdoch was more than willing to open his wallet to get and keep programming and talent. DuMont, in contrast, operated on a shoestring budget and was unable to keep the programs and stars it had. Most of the other startup networks that launched in later years (such as The WB, UPN and The CW) followed Fox’s model as well. Clarke Ingram, who maintains a memorial website to the failed DuMont Television Network, has suggested that Fox is a revival or at least a linear descendant of DuMont, since Metromedia was spun off from DuMont and that company’s television stations formed the nucleus of the Fox network. WNYW (originally known as WABD) and WTTG were two of the three original owned-and-operated stations of the DuMont network.

Although Fox was growing rapidly as a network and had established itself as a presence, it was still not considered a major competitor to the established “Big Three” broadcast networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. From its launch, Fox had the advantage of offering programs intended to appeal toward a younger demographic – adults between 18 and 49 years of age – and were edgier in content, whereas some programs that were carried by the “Big Three” networks attracted an older-skewing audience. Until the early 1990’s, when Fox expanded its programming to additional nights and outside of prime time, most Fox stations were still essentially formatted as independent stations – filling their schedules with mainly first-run and acquired programming, and during prime time, running either syndicated programs or more commonly, movies on nights when the network did not provide programming.

As Fox gradually headed towards carrying a full week’s worth of programming in prime time – through the addition of programming on Thursday and Friday nights at the start of the 1990–91 season – the network’s added offerings included the scheduling of The Simpsons opposite veteran NBC sitcom The Cosby Show as part of Fox’s initial Thursday night lineup that fall (along with future hit Beverly Hills, 90210) after only a half-season of success on Sunday nights. The show performed well in its new Thursday slot, spending four seasons there and helping to launch Martin, another Fox comedy that became a hit when it debuted in September 1992. The Simpsons returned to Sunday nights in the fall of 1994, and has remained there ever since. The early and mid-1990s saw the debuts of several soap opera-style prime time dramas aimed at younger audiences that became quick hits, which in addition to Beverly Hills, 90210, included its spin-off Melrose Place and family drama Party of Five. The early and mid-1990’s also saw the network launch several series aimed at a black audience, which, in addition to Martin, included Living Single and New York Undercover.

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