"It's Garry Shandling's Show," which became a hit on cable television after being rejected by the three major networks, is going to make it to a commercial network after all. Fox Broadcasting said Tuesday it plans to add the critically acclaimed comedy series to its Sunday-night lineup in March.
At the same time, however, Fox is giving up on its home-grown late-night series, "The Wilton North Report." Sources connected with the late-night comedy program said it will have its final broadcast Friday, just four weeks after it premiered. There was no immediate word on what will replace it.
At a news conference held during their second annual affiliates convention, executives of the 20-month-old "fourth network" downplayed current programming problems in favor of trumpeting the announcement that comedian Shandling's half-hour pay-TV series will become part of Fox's schedule March 6.
"It's Garry Shandling's Show" will continue to air on Showtime, which will maintain a 30-day period of exclusivity over new episodes. The episodes will then be aired on the Fox network (including KTTV Channel 11 in Los Angeles), and then will become available for syndication.
Fox chairman Barry Diller called the long-rumored acquisition of Shandling's offbeat send-up of the TV sitcom "one of the most important things we have done" in the effort to put the struggling Fox Broadcasting Co. solidly on its feet.
Diller was joined in making the announcement by Fox Broadcasting's programming president Garth Ancier, Shandling and his show's executive producers, Bernie Brillstein and Brad Grey, and Henry Schleiff, chairman and chief executive officer of Viacom, the parent company of the Showtime cable channel.
Diller, who with a grin described "It's Garry Shandling's Show" as "too good for cable," called the new partnership "a great new way to kind of jointly do programming" which he believes will profit Fox, Viacom and the executive producers of the show.
The principals declined to discuss financial arrangements.
Inclusion of the "Shandling" half-hour will extend Fox's current two-hour Sunday schedule to 10:30 p.m. The company has no target date for programming a 10:30-11 p.m. show.
Fox Broadcasting will begin its 44-episode commitment to "It's Garry Shandling's Show" with the first 28 episodes, most of which have already aired on Showtime. Fox will air no episodes which do not air first on the cable channel.
Diller insisted, however, that the episodes' previous airing would pose no problem to Fox Broadcasting, since the Showtime audience of 5.6 million homes represents only a small portion of the show's potential audience on Fox stations, which he said represents between 82% and 96% of the 88 million TV households nationwide.
Diller added that Fox Broadcasting was "damn lucky' to get already produced programming that is "virgin in most of the United States." He said the company is "not defensive at all" about getting the shows on a second-play basis. "We think it's great," he said.
Shandling noted that existing shows would have to be edited to make room for commercial breaks, but he said in new episodes, he would work commercials into the show's story lines. The show, which pokes funs at TV's conventions, might now include a pre-commercial dialogue such as "Well, at least we'll have a minute and a half to think this over. . . ."
At the news conference, the Fox executives acknowledged that "The Wilton North Report" "is in trouble," but said they did not want to discuss the show further until they had talked about its future with representatives of Fox-affiliated stations. Sources connected with the program later confirmed that it had been canceled.
The show, a comedy-news program that replaced "The Late Show" Dec. 11, had been trashed by critics and has not fared well in ratings.
Meanwhile, Jamie Kellner, president and chief executive officer of Fox Broadcasting, confirmed recent reports that Fox Broadcasting has rescinded plans to begin a third night of original programming this spring and has not set a new date for doing so. He said that Fox executives were "filled with bravado" last year when they announced those plans and have since become more conservative.
Although reticent about "Wilton North," both Kellner and Ancier spoke frankly about the company's other major problem: its Saturday night lineup.
In a session with affiliated station representatives prior to their news conference, both Kellner and Ancier admitted disappointment in Fox's poor ratings performance on Saturday nights. But Ancier said Fox has committed $24 million to revamping existing shows and developing new programming, and said that the company would replace all of its Saturday night lineup if necessary.