Bart Simpson and the Sugar Bowl game are among the possible casualties of a bitter dispute over fees that the Fox network's owner is demanding from Time Warner Cable systems in New York, Los Angeles and other markets.
As a midnight Thursday deadline approaches, though, Time Warner Cable offered an olive branch that could leave the Fox network and some of its cable TV channels on the lineup for millions of subscribers _ for now.
Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt said Wednesday the cable operator will agree to binding arbitration and any interim steps necessary to keep Fox channels on while talks continue.
"Consumers should not be held hostage during these negotiations. That's just wrong," Britt said in an interview Wednesday.
Britt disclosed such willingness in a letter to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who had pleaded for both sides to agree to uninterrupted television for football fans "through the college bowl season." A copy of Britt's letter was forwarded to News Corp. Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey.
Fox said it will respond to the offer later Wednesday.
If a deal isn't reached, programs that could disappear from Time Warner Cable Inc.'s lineup include "The Simpsons" and several football games, including the Sugar Bowl on Friday, the Cotton Bowl on Saturday and the NFL's final regular season contests on Sunday. Bright House Networks' cable TV systems also face a Thursday deadline with Fox's owner, News Corp.
In Florida, two television viewers filed a lawsuit Wednesday against News Corp., seeking an injunction to ensure that the Fox broadcast of the Florida-Cincinnati Sugar Bowl contest would remain on Bright House' cable system. Circuit Judge Maura Smith in Orlando did not immediately rule, saying she would first let a federal judge decide if federal court was the proper venue for the case.
Fox is arguing that it needs to be paid more for broadcast signals that are retransmitted to subscribers of Time Warner Cable and Bright House. Time Warner Cable says the demanded fees are excessive.
The dispute concerns the signals of 14 Fox-owned stations covering such markets as Los Angeles, New York, Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin, Texas and Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg and Orlando, Fla. Stations carrying Fox programming but owned by other companies are not affected.
Besides the Fox broadcast network, six cable channels _ FX, Speed, Fuel, Fox Reality, Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Espanol _ and certain regional sports networks were also up for negotiations. Unaffected are Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network and National Geographic Channel, which is partially owned by News Corp.