Writers Guild head warns Senate that Comcast-NBC merger would stifle independent programming

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, left, speaks as Assistant U.S. Attorney General for Antitrust Christine Varney, right, listens during a hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee March 11, 2010 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was to examine the proposed Comcast-NBC merger.

The Senate Commerce Committee convened a hearing today in Washington on the proposed merger of Comcast and NBC Universal. KPCC’s Brian Watt says the head of the Writers Guild urged caution about the pending $30 billion deal.

Writers Guild president John Wells is the writer-producer of NBC’s successful drama series “ER” and “The West Wing.” He told the Senate committee he’s concerned about the power that cable giant Comcast would grab if it assumes control of the media conglomerate.

Wells testified that consolidation in the entertainment industry in recent decades has thinned the number of independent producers. That, he said, has reduced the number of opportunities for writers — and has created less varied programming for viewers.

Wells urged regulators to require that the merged company allocate a quarter of primetime programming on its broadcast and cable networks to independent producers. Comcast chief Brian Roberts said he doesn’t favor a mandated quota, but he added that Comcast would be determined to improve NBC’s 4th-place standing among the broadcast networks.

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