Njn To Review Decision To Cancel 'Uncle Floyd'

Posted: August 14, 1986

TRENTON — Bowing to public pressure, the New Jersey Network (NJN) will re-examine its decision to drop the zany, slapstick Uncle Floyd Show from its fall television schedule.

The politically appointed New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority, which oversees the state-owned public-television network, voted in June to drop Uncle Floyd and two other programs, Dark Shadows and People, Pets and Dr. Mark.

But authority chairman Stephen Adubato said yesterday that he had been flooded with letters and phone calls protesting the decision to cancel Uncle Floyd and that he had asked the NJN staff to take a second look at the show.

"The authority has listened and will continue to listen to the public," said Adubato of the protests by Uncle Floyd fans.

Adubato said he wants the network's staff to examine several alternatives to cancellation, which,if it holds, would make Uncle Floyd's Oct. 10 broadcast its last.

One possibility would be to renew the network's contract for the show. Another option would be to air reruns. The NJN staff also will consider running the show at a time other than its 7 p.m. weekday slot, Adubato said.

Adubato would like the staff to report to him within a month on its recommendation. The re-evaluation will not affect Dark Shadows and People, Pets and Dr. Mark, which will be dropped.

Now in its third year on public television, The Uncle Floyd Show features comedian Floyd Vivino in comedy skits, song-and-dance acts, and audience- participation routines. A fan club for the show, which began as a local cable-television program in 1974, claims 10,000 members in 33 states. Before Uncle Floyd was picked up by NJN, which taped it before a live audience at the network's studio in Newark, the show was produced in North Jersey and syndicated around the country. Skits from the program have been packaged on the Nickelodeon cable-TV network.

It was unclear yesterday whether Uncle Floyd had a future. But several authority members suggested at their monthly meeting yesterday that the show did not fit with the network's mission to provide cultural, educational, news and public-affairs programming.

"As far as I'm concerned, the matter is dead unless the staff returns with another recommendation," said authority member J. Garfield DeMarco of Burlington County.

Efforts to reach NJN acting general manager Sondra Clark later yesterday were unsuccessful.

Among those who have come to Uncle Floyd's defense is Assembly Minority Leader Alan Karcher (D., Middlesex). In a letter he sent Tuesday to the authority, Karcher said he had received daily complaints from constitutents about the show's cancellation.

While conceding that Uncle Floyd had "low humor and zany antics," Karcher also noted that "Aristophanes' comedies always drew larger audiences than the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides," and that "the galleries always related better to Falstaff than they did to Lear or Hamlet."

The panel's June decision to cancel the three programs has troubled some network supporters, who worry that it signals a new and possibly dangerous involvement in programming by the 15-member board, which is composed entirely of gubernatorial appointees.

"I'm concerned about the precedent it sets. Will it affect the news? Will you have to cover (Gov.) Tom Kean because he's holding a town meeting somewhere?" asked John Sheahan, the first vice president of the Friends of New Jersey Network, which contributes roughly $1 million a year to the network.

Network officials have cited finances and incompatibility with public television's mission as reasons for Uncle Floyd's cancellation. The show cost about $180,000 to produce this year.

The decision to cancel the show followed a closed-door meeting of the authority in June. The meeting was supposed to focus only on contractual matters involving the program. But several panel members said yesterday at the authority's monthly meeting that they also discussed whether the show met the network's mission and programming goals.

DeMarco pointed yesterday to an in-house network memo warning that "prime- time programming of non-public broadcasting material" such as Uncle Floyd and Dark Shadows "may unduly distract the public image of New Jersey Network away from its basic public-broadcasting mission."

The authority has been re-examining the network's mission and programming priorities as it searches for a general manager to replace Hendrix Niemann, who quit in December. Niemann has contended that the governor's office forced him out because it was displeased by the network's news coverage of the administration.

Adubato, who as authority chairman pushed for Niemann's departure last year, has denied Niemann's accusations.

Yesterday, Audubato was unanimously re-elected chairman by the authority.