Fox Broadcasting Postpones Debut of 'Wilton North'

Times Staff Writer

Fox Broadcasting's new late-night program "The Wilton North Report," scheduled to have its first broadcast Monday night, was postponed at the eleventh hour because of problems with its opening segment, a humorous news report.

The show, a replacement for the network's "Late Show" program, will now debut sometime "within the next two weeks," Jamie Kellner, Fox Broadcasting's president and chief executive, said Monday.

Fox will rebroadcast "Late Show" programs featuring the show's most recent host, comedian Arsenio Hall, until "Wilton North" is ready to go on the air.

"The Wilton North Report," which was intended to provide humorous commentary on the day's news, had been in the works for more than two months, the third late-night entry from Fox since the network was formed last year and launched "The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers." The comedian was dismissed as host last May, giving way to "Late Show."

Barry Sand, executive producer of the new show, said in an interview Monday that both he and Fox executives agreed in a meeting Sunday that the opening segment of the show had problems. "We all knew that it wasn't working," he said. "You don't know if something's going to work until it's on its feet."

A "Wilton North Report" staffer who asked not to be identified said Sand told those present at the Sunday meeting that Kellner and Barry Diller, chairman and chief executive officer of 20th Century Fox, had looked at rehearsal tapes and decided that parts were "just not funny" and "mean-spirited," and that the six-minute opening news report involved "cheap jokes about people's looks" and other objectionable material.

Sand, who was producing NBC's "Late Night With David Letterman" when Fox hired him to create its new late-night show, said Fox was "very, very nice" about the need for a last-minute postponement, adding that he plans to try a new opening now.

"You don't want to delude yourself. We're not going to beat people over the head and say it works. It didn't.

"We're talking about an act; the rest of the show is OK," he added. "They (Fox) were very cooperative in saying: 'If you need the time, take it.' "

In a prepared statement, Kellner said: "In the long run, it doesn't matter whether it (the show) debuts now or in two weeks. When Barry Sand tells us he's ready, we're ready."

Sand said some of the last-minute problems arose because the writers and the show's hosts, the comedy team of Paul Robins and Phil Cowan, had not had sufficient time to work together. Although Sand began developing the show in September, he did not hire the hosts until 10 days ago, and the entire staff had only worked together for one week, which was broken by the Thanksgiving holiday.

Sand added that the staff found that the six-minute news report was requiring eight or nine hours of production per day. The writing staff was required to come up with a "funny newspaper" about the day's events from which the hosts would pick material for the news reports. The writing staff will remain intact despite any format changes, he said.

Sand said the target debut date is within two weeks but added that he and Fox Broadcasting have agreed to take more time if necessary.

"It (the show) is a new idea, and it makes sense to make pre-flight plans before you take off," he said. "When you're up in the air is not the time to say, 'Hey, do we have any gas?' "

Howard Rosenberg contributed to this report .

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