What do you do when network affiliates refuse to air network programming?

Yes, I was that one guy who loyally watched “The Bradys” every Friday night back in 1990. All that is except for the last episode, when my local affiliate decided to air college basketball instead. This sort of affiliate power seems to rear its ugly head from time to time, in which local telephons and news programming take over the prime time slot. Only occasionally, and very rarely, does the affiliate broadcast the network show displaced at another time. (This is especially annoying during hurricane season, when the slightest gust of wind gives the local affiliate free reign to talk weather all night long, and never show the network show.)

Most recently, “Temptation Island” was not carried by my local FOX affiliate due to its “immorality”, but in this case, an independent station started airing it.

So I guess my question is… How much leeway does a local affiliate have to take over prime time? And when they choose not to air the network’s programming, are they allowed (or even obligated) to air this material at another time. And if they choose not to air missed programming, can another station obtain the show for broadcast?

Here is a link to a 1995 FCC report that addresses a lot of your questions concerning network/affiliate relations. The FCC considers it very important to allow local stations the right to control what is aired on their channel, so they try to set rules that give the affiliates a lot of power in this regard. Or, as they put it, “The right to reject rule is therefore based on what we identified in Section II, supra, as goal number two – to ensure that licensees retain sufficient control over their stations to fulfill their obligation under the Communications Act to operate in the public interest. The Commission has traditionally interpreted this notion of control to mean that a licensee must preserve its ability to exercise full responsibility over all matters involving the operation of its station.”

How much leeway does a local affiliate have to take over prime time?

It depends on the contract between the network and the affiliates, but IIRC, there’s quite a bit. Current FCC rules allow affiliates to “(1) reject network programs that the station “reasonably believes to be unsatisfactory or
unsuitable or contrary to the public interest,” or (2) substitute a program that the station believes to be of greater local or national importance.”

** And when they choose not to air the network’s programming, are they allowed (or even obligated) to air this material at another time.**

I believe they are allowed, pursuant to negotiation with the network. (After all, the network has sold program advertising based upon the presumption of X amount of stations clearing the program at the network-preferred time. They don’t want to undermine their own sales.) I don’t believe they are in any way obligated to do so.

Absolutely. If a station does not clear a program, the network is free to offer it to other stations in the market.

Even here in Boston there have been times when the affiliates blew off the network and ran a movie in place of a show.

My biggest complaint about living in Salt Lake City was that the ABC affiliate would NOT run Nightline. They ran reruns of “Fantasy Island” instead. (savor the irony…)

Here in St. Louis, one of our local affiliates has the unfortunately tendency to pre-empt low-rated (but often highly regarded) network shows in favor of syndicated reruns, which they can profit out of. The General Manager told the newspaper the station’s contract with the network allows it to pre-empt something like 100 hours of network programming per year.

So yes, if a station is smart enough to get it in their contract, they can do it.

As to what you can do, you have a couple of options. They may not work, but you’ll certainly feel better.

First, complain to the station. In writing. Using intelligent words, tell them you want the real shows.

Second, complain to the sponsors who ran ads on the replacement program. (You can even request their names from the station.) Tell them you aren’t watching, your friends aren’t watching and if they want to waste their money for commercials no one is watching, that’s up to them.

Third, write the network. Tell them you love the program and you hate to see it pre-empted. That won’t help much right away, but it might when the contract comes up for renewal.

Be warned, these tactics probably won’t do much good for things like sporting events and the Billy Graham Crusade – which are often higher rated than the programs they replace. Also, one of the local station managers here was criticized for running infomercials on the weekends instead of the network’s sports programming (at the time, it was golf and tennis) and he showed the ratings that proved the infomercials were actually HIGHER rated than the network programming.

In my city, the advent of the local high school hockey season means forget about watching any UPN primetime shows for weeks at a time.