Eleven California television stations were ordered by a Sacramento judge late Friday to carry the California Lottery's "Big Spin" program tonight, after the lottery agency agreed to cover the $65,000 production cost.
Operators of the stations had said they were uncertain whether they could continue to air the low-rated show.
Despite earlier pledges that the program would not be subsidized by lottery funds, the state agency agreed to cover the cost for tonight's program, scheduled to air at 7 p.m.
However, with some stations still uncertain about carrying it, state Lottery Director Mark Michalko sought the court order to force them to do so. Sacramento County Superior Court Judge James Ford obliged. He plans to hear other motions in the case next week.
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.
The judge left the way open for the state to sue the stations to recover the production cost, because under the original agreement, the weekly show was to have been telecast at no cost to the state.
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.
Before the judge's order, 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 Friday 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."
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.
Taylor said that he expected the WIN network to cover the costs of future programs.
"We believe the thing will work out," he said. "The short-term problem has been solved."