The fate of the California State Lottery's "Big Spin" television program appeared in limbo Friday as stations around the state said they were uncertain whether they would continue to carry the low-rated show.
Despite earlier pledges that the program would not be subsidized by lottery funds, the state agency late Friday agreed to cover the $65,000 in costs for tonight's program, scheduled to air at 7 p.m.
At the same time, however, the lottery was seeking a court order to force a consortium of California TV stations to carry the show.
State officials emphasized, however, that they would continue awarding the program's prizes whether or not the show continued on the air.
Bob Taylor, spokesman for the lottery, said officials agreed to cover the costs of Hollywood Center Studios and Simon and Laughlin Productions for tonight's show because "internal problems" between the producers and the statewide network of 11 stations that carry the show threatened to force the program off the air.
"We had to work out an agreement with the producer to assure us that we'll have a program," Taylor said. "There was a time when the issue was in doubt."
Taylor said the lottery expects to be reimbursed by the Winning Image Network (WIN), which distributes the show to stations around the state.
Late Friday, however, lottery officials sought a temporary restraining order in Sacramento County Superior Court forcing WIN to carry the program. Taylor said that the lottery has a one-year contract for WIN to distribute the program.
"We're trying to get the court to force WIN to fulfill its contractual obligations," Taylor said.
WIN and show producers had planned for commercial sponsors to cover the costs of the program, but low ratings since its October debut may have made the show unattractive to advertisers.
According to A. C. Nielsen Co. figures, the show has been losing audiences in its Monday night time period. Tonight's show is the first scheduled on a Saturday.
The program has been plagued by other troubles. In November the lottery quietly switched production companies and masters of ceremony.
Spokesmen for several stations scheduled to carry the program were still uncertain whether they would carry tonight's show, even after the deal between the lottery and producers was reached.
John Severino, general manager of KABC, Channel 7, in Los Angeles, said late Friday that "as of this moment in time we don't know whether we're going to air it or not because of legal complications." He did not specify what these were.
"We were notified that there may or may not be a show tomorrow (Saturday) night," said Jack McWeeny, general manager of KEYT, Channel 3, in Santa Barbara. "All we got was that they were having problems with the producer."
At KGTV, Channel 10, in San Diego, a spokeswoman said her station had been told that the show "is going to go tomorrow night, but we don't know who's doing it or where it's coming from."
Switch From Monday
The show's problems are "related to sponsorship and other little wrinkles," said lottery spokesman Taylor. "The problems are tied to the switch from the Monday format to the Saturday format."
The move to Saturday nights, planned for some time, was prompted by the end of "Monday Night Football" telecasts, which preceded the lottery show. (In Los Angeles and San Francisco, "Hardcastle and McCormick" aired immediately before "Big Spin.")
With the end of football season, the ABC television network plans to introduce regularly scheduled entertainment programming in the time period previously occupied by "Big Spin." All 11 stations carrying the lottery show are owned by or affiliated with ABC.