"The Wilton North Report," Fox Broadcasting's beleaguered late-night show, was canceled late Tuesday afternoon, a scant four weeks after its premiere. Troubled from its inception and plagued by low ratings and savage criticism from reviewers, the show will air for the last time Friday at 11:30 p.m. (Channel 11).
Fox executives axed the program after meeting with affiliates in Century City Tuesday afternoon. Many of the more than 100 Fox affiliates had expressed dissatisfaction with the late-night comedy series, and several already were preempting it in favor of off-network reruns before Tuesday's announcement.
Fox executives were unavailable to answer questions Wednesday about why they pulled the plug on the show after only four weeks or on what they plan to do with the late-night time slot following Friday's final broadcast.
Barry Sand, executive producer of "Wilton North" and formerly executive producer of "Late Night With David Letterman," did not return telephone calls from the Times Wednesday. And no one associated with the comedy-news series would comment on whether Sand would be retained to produce an entirely new late-night program or whether Fox would try to build a different kind of show around Arsenio Hall, the popular comedian who hosted the last several months of "The Late Show."
"Wilton North" replaced "The Late Show," which initially starred Joan Rivers and then featured a series of guest hosts before settling on Hall, last Dec. 11. The much-ballyhooed "Wilton North" had been scheduled to debut Nov. 30, but after watching a run-through that very afternoon, Fox executives delayed the premiere two weeks to give the show's producers more time to work the bugs out of the program's opening segment.
Having spent weeks promoting the show's debut, that last minute maneuver angered many Fox affiliates and prompted the Fox station in Chattanooga, Tenn., to preempt the show from the start. Fox affiliates in St. Louis and Austin, Tex., also have been preempting the program.
Prior to its demise last November "The Late Show" had been averaging about a 2% share of the late-night audience in St. Louis, and, in most markets, "The Wilton North Report" has fared even worse. With reruns of "Sanford & Son" and "Leave It to Beaver" airing instead in the late-night time slot, KDNL-TV in St. Louis has recently been averaging a 10 share.
KCBS-TV Channel 2 has snatched the daily hourlong talk show "Geraldo!" away from KTLA Channel 5 and will begin broadcasting it in March at 4 p.m. as a lead-in to its 5 o'clock news. The show premiered last September and is currently seen on Channel 5 at 9 a.m. It will continue on that station through February.
Channel 2 would not reveal the financial deal struck with Tribune Entertainment, the company that owns and produces "Geraldo!," but a station spokesman said that over time Tribune would receive a higher licensing fee from KCBS than it did from KTLA.
The success of "Donahue" and the "Oprah Winfrey Show" as lead-ins to the 4 p.m. newscasts on rival stations KNBC-TV and KABC-TV convinced KCBS officials that talk shows were most compatible with news in the Los Angeles market. Channel 2 has been leading into its 5 p.m. news with "Divorce Court" and "People's Court" from 3-4 p.m. and reruns of "Simon & Simon" from 4-5 p.m.
" 'Geraldo!' is doing well in most markets," said Andi Sporkin, KCBS spokesman, "and it has lots of viewers who tend to stick around and want to watch news."
KCBS' airing of "Geraldo!" at 4 p.m. will put it against news on the two other local network affiliates. "Simon & Simon" will move to 3 p.m., opposite Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey, and the two "Court" shows will be shelved.
Ratings and ad revenues for a program aired in the afternoon are generally much higher than those earned by a 9 a.m. broadcast. "Geraldo!," which stars Geraldo Rivera in a television talk show format, averaged a 2.5 rating locally in the November ratings sweeps, compared to its national average of 3.8.
Channel 5 has not yet decided what it will do with the open time slot come March.