Agencies to Fox: Don't Even Ask

Media Buyers Proactively Called to Be Kept Out of O.J. Special

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Advertisers breathed a sigh of relief yesterday as Fox yanked its O.J. Simpson semi-confessional sweeps special. The show, titled "O.J. Simpson: If I Did it, Here's How it Happened," is being replaced with an episode of "House" at 9 p.m. on Nov. 27, and with "Bones" at the same time on Nov. 29.
Canceled O.J. Simpson interview by Judith Regan had media buyers actively lobbying to be left out of the special.
Canceled O.J. Simpson interview by Judith Regan had media buyers actively lobbying to be left out of the special. Credit: Michael Yarish

Several media buyers told Advertising Age they proactively called Fox to say they didn't want their clients' spots to run in the special. Other media agencies report that no one from Fox ad sales even called to pitch the show, perhaps knowing the response from advertisers. Most advertisers heard the news about the special through media reports last week. The first part of the special was to have aired Nov. 27 at 9 p.m. following the season finale of "Prison Break."

Net needs a boost
Fox, which is trailing the other broadcast networks at the end of the November sweeps, will now have to rely on two of its more promising shows, "House" and "Bones," to give it a boost instead of the much-hyped special.

"The broadcast came and was dropped so fast that I'm not sure they even got around to offering it to people," said Gary Carr, senior VP-director of broadcast services at TargetCast TCM, New York. "They ruffled the feathers of every constituency of the Fox Broadcasting Company." Mr. Carr added that News Corp. did the right thing in the end by axing the project.

"They have not contacted us, but we told them don't even bother, we would not be interested," said Chris Allen, VP-associate director at GSD&M, which represents clients such as AT&T. "This was the right thing to do. I'm pleased to see they made a decision that was in the best interests of the American public. It was very inappropriate programming. They crossed the line."

Even film studios turned off
Generally, movie studios pay much less attention to the public furor over the content of TV shows, given the need to hit mass audiences in a short space of time, but even Geoff Robison, a major West Coast movie buyer with Palisades Media Group, said he wasn't contacted about it either: "When I first heard about it, I was confused. I'm not surprised they dropped it. I'm sure the sales people were scratching their heads thinking, 'How are we going to sell this?' I'm glad it's been canceled."

Fox did not respond immediately for comment.

While Fox is no longer running trailers for the show on its website, YouTube is carrying them. In a clip that's just a few seconds long, viewers can see Mr. Simpson discussing with the interviewer the amount of blood at the scene.

Ironically, Mike Darnell, Fox's exec-VP alternative programming, said in the network's press release issued Nov. 14: "This is an interview that no one thought would ever happen." He went on to describe the special as the "definitive last chapter in the trial of the century."

Show withdrawn Monday
The taped interview, which was conducted by the book's publisher Judith Regan, was withdrawn yesterday, with News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch issuing a surprise apology. The book, which has also been scrapped, was to have been released Nov. 30.

"I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project," Mr. Murdoch said in the statement. "We are sorry for any pain this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown-Simpson."

The statement followed statements by affiliates -- including Lin TV and Pappas Telecasting -- in which they explained they would not air the special. Two Fox News Channel hosts, Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo Rivera, disparaged the special. Mr. O'Reilly, in fact, disassociated Fox News from sibling Fox Broadcast and declared he would not support any advertisers that supported the special.

'A dual duty'
Pappas issued a statement yesterday reading: "We congratulate the leaders of the Fox network for reconsidering their earlier decision. After all, broadcasters have a dual duty. We are not just businesspersons -- we are public trustees, as well. As such, we must remember that the values and standards of the public we serve must be paramount in our programming decisions. Put another way, our duties as broadcasters mean putting the public first and profits second. This special would have benefited only O.J. Simpson, who deserves nothing but contempt, and certainly no benefit."
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