Leno tussle isn't the first for WHDH owner
Ed Ansin got in hot water with NBC in mid-'80s at WSVNNBC strikes back over Leno in Boston
The bombshell announcement by NBC's Boston affiliate that it will not air the network's upcoming 10 p.m. talk show with Jay Leno thrust into the spotlight the station's owner, Ed Ansin.
Just who is that man who dared to defy a Big Three network with a move to permanently pre-empt a full hour of primetime for a local newscast with blatant comments like, "We don't think the Leno show is going to be effective in primetime"?
For his actions, Ansin was labeled by some as a rogue. But those who know him well call the 73-year-old entrepreneur "a soft-spoken intellectual" who is "risk averse."
So what prompted this "soft-spoken intellectual" to thumb his nose at NBC?
Ansin's WHDH in Boston is the biggest-market NBC station not owned or co-owned by the network, but he doesn't have any additional leverage. His company, Sunbeam, owns only three stations: WHDH and CW affiliate WLVI in Ansin's native Massachusetts and Fox affiliate WSVN in South Florida, where he lives.
What's more, his NBC station is reportedly one of very few that still receive compensation from the network, so he is poised to lose several million dollars if his affiliation is yanked.
That may not phase Ansin, who has frequently been featured on Forbes' billionaire list. In 2007, he was worth $1.7 billion. He has massive real estate holdings that include thousands of acres of land and millions of square feet of commercial property in South Florida.
But his rebellion puts him in jeopardy of losing not just several million dollars in compensation but hundreds of millions if NBC yanks its affiliation as evidenced by the demise of San Francisco's KRON, which shed about 95% of its value after losing its NBC affiliation.
So why is the "risk averse" Ansin taking such a gamble?
The answer might lie 22 years ago, when Ansin's passion for local news (with heavy emphasis on tabloid, crime and consumer stories), penchant for network pre-emptions and hard stance against NBC got him in the same hot water at WSVN.
In the mid-1980s, when WSVN was an NBC affiliate, Ansin pre-empted the network's noon programming to air a local newscast and often also dropped NBC's 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. shows, prompting the network to run the dumped programs on indie stations in the area.
The pre-emptions ultimately contributed to NBC's decision in 1987 to buy a station in the market, the CBS affiliate WTVJ. Both WSVN's and WTVJ's affiliate agreements were not up until the end of 1988, but with CBS willing to release WTVJ a year earlier, NBC was eager to make the switch at the beginning of 1988.
However, Ansin would not budge. He was dead set on airing NBC's 1988 Olympics and baseball coverage, forcing NBC to run its O&O station as a CBS affiliate for a year while airing under CBS' logo all if its shows pre-empted by Ansin's WSVN.
Needless to say, that stubbornness didn't sit well with CBS, either, which refused to make WSVN a CBS affiliate. With the value of his station plunging, Ansin ultimately signed with then-fledging network Fox.
He was eventually able to turn the disaster into a success on the back of the eight hours of local news a day he commissioned and with some help from Fox, which 20 years later is the top network.
When he bought Boston's WHDH -- then a CBS affiliate -- in 1993, Ansin also quickly dropped the network's morning show "CBS This Morning" to expand the station's local morning newscast to 5-9 a.m.
But since WHDH became an NBC affiliate in 1995, he has been mostly faithful to the network's programming.