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Fox News flips when Zahn zips

Breach of contract alleged as anchor slides to rival

NEW YORK — CNN has nabbed Fox News anchor Paula Zahn as host of a new morning show — and Fox News is ready to put up a fight over how she got there.

CNN said it expects to hammer out a deal with the former “CBS This Morning” anchor today. Fox News fired Zahn, who was under contract to the network until February, after learning she was entertaining an offer from the competish. Her contract stipulated she could not field any outside offers until the contract expired.

“Fox News regards breach of contract as a serious and intolerable offense,” Fox News exec VP Jack Abernathy said. “We consider the acts of her representatives to be unscrupulous and her actions to be disloyal to the network.” Legal action is being “actively considered,” Fox News said in a statement.

Tom Goodman, a spokesman for N.S. Bienstock, which reps Zahn, said “CNN has made an offer to Paula Zahn subject to her availability and contractual obligations. Paula Zahn … has honored her contract to Fox News Channel.”

Fox News had been actively negotiating to re-sign Zahn, who anchored a nightly primetime program, and was in discussions about upping her salary to $800,000. The proposed contract included a stipulation that if Zahn’s show continued to rate below a 0.6, the net would have the right to move her to the weekends.

Industry insiders said Zahn’s salary at CNN could be approximately $2 million a year — significantly more than the $600,000 she was making at Fox.

“This isn’t about money. This is about her wanting to come to CNN,” said Walter Isaacson, chairman-CEO of CNN News Group.

The Gotham-based morning show, which is in development, is slated to launch in the spring when CNN unveils its new street-level studios. In the meantime, Isaacson said, “We’ll look at all sorts of wonderful things for Paula to do here.”

Ratings on upswing

During the second quarter, “The Edge With Paula Zahn,” the show she hosted until Tuesday, averaged a 0.6 rating (366,000 households), a 23% dropoff in households from its “Hannity & Colmes” lead-in. In the third quarter to date, “The Edge” had improved to an average of 0.7 (486,000 households).

Fox News moved swiftly Wednesday to erase all signs of Zahn on its Web site. “The Edge With Paula Zahn” was replaced on the site by “The Fox News Edge.” Zahn’s bio and mug also were gone from the site. It’s unclear whether “The Edge” will stick around without Zahn. Fox News anchor John Gibson substituted for Zahn on Wednesday.

Zahn joined Fox News in early 1999 from the Eye net, where she was co-anchor of “CBS This Morning” for six years. After leaving the ayem show in 1997, she was anchor of “CBS Evening News Saturday Edition” and substituted for Dan Rather on the weekday edition of the newscast.

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