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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

FX Takes Hero Out of Action

Network pulls Schwarzenegger films. Others weigh fairness issue.

August 14, 2003|Sallie Hofmeister | Times Staff Writer

FX is terminating the Terminator.

The cable network, owned by News Corp., said late Wednesday that it was pulling all movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger from its lineup because it was "the appropriate thing to do" while the actor makes his bid to be California's next governor.

FX spokesman John Solberg wouldn't elaborate on the cable channel's decision to cancel both "Eraser" and "Predator," which have been on the channel recently and were scheduled to air again several times over the coming days and weeks.

The decision apparently stems from ambiguities in the federal law governing the airtime given to political candidates, sources said. Under federal rules, candidates can demand equal time from broadcasters that air entertainment programs featuring a political rival.

The rule has long been interpreted as applying solely to local broadcast stations. But in the wake of Schwarzenegger's announcement last week to run in the recall election, cable channels that regularly show his movies decided not to take any chances. They turned to their lawyers this week for counsel, and at least two of channels asked the Federal Communications Commission for a clarification on whether the equal-time rule applied to them.

Schwarzenegger movies such as "The Terminator" and "True Lies" have long been cable staples because of their enduring popularity. Channels such as TNT, USA, Sci Fi Channel and HBO have scheduled 50 airings of Schwarzenegger movies in just the next two weeks, according to TV Guide magazine.

Cable executives said the proliferation of Schwarzenegger movies this month was due at least in part to the industry strategy known as stunting -- boosting ratings with movies or TV shows featuring actors who are suddenly in the news. And some cable channels are trying to capitalize on the buzz surrounding the actor's latest film, "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines."

It's not the first time that a political race has interfered with television programming.

For instance, the FCC's equal-time provision is what discouraged TV networks from airing reruns of "Death Valley Days," featuring Ronald Reagan, during his campaigns for president.

The National Assn. of Broadcasters said the equal-time rule applied to only entertainment programming on TV networks and local stations, such as KNBC-TV Channel 4 and KTLA-TV Channel 5, which is owned by Los Angeles Times parent Tribune Co. The trade association warned its TV station members in California that they could be subject to free-time requests if they aired Schwarzenegger movies before the Oct. 7 election.

Cable executives at Vivendi Universal, owner of USA and Sci Fi, said its legal department was still reviewing the law. Sci Fi is scheduled to air three Schwarzenegger movies Sunday night alone, including "Conan the Destroyer."

Sources said AOL Time Warner Inc.'s Turner Broadcasting System, the owner of TNT and TBS, asked the FCC to clarify whether the equal-time rule applied to cable channels. The sources said TBS hadn't received a response Wednesday night. A Turner spokesman wouldn't comment on the issue. TNT is scheduled to air "The Terminator" Aug. 22 and 23.

The FCC couldn't be reached for comment late Wednesday.

AOL Time Warner unit Home Box Office said it wouldn't pull "Collateral Damage" from its Thursday night schedule. HBO spokeswoman Nancy Lesser said that after reviewing the law, the network had determined national cable channels such as HBO, FX and USA are exempt from the equal-time rule. She said the rule applied only to broadcast stations and other local originators of programming.

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