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Fox dumps Par affil for indie

In a move that could hasten the development of a fifth broadcast network, Fox has dumped Paramount-owned WTXF as the weblet’s affiliate in Philadelphia to buy Combined Communications UHF indie WGBS.

Par immediately blasted Fox for making the estimated $ 50 million-$ 75 million deal for the station in the nation’s fourth-largest market, leading sources to suggest the studio may now be inclined to end its affiliation agreement with Fox in three other markets (the largest being Detroit) and form an ad-hoc network with the Chris-Craft/United TV group.

The combination would give the two coverage in about a third of the country.

As previously reported (Variety, June 28), Par chairman Martin Davis has held talks with Chris-Craft head Herb Siegel about establishing an ad hoc broadcast network comprising their two station groups.

Chris-Craft is said to be a serious contender to acquire Combine’s Chicago and Miami indie stations, which would give the potential Par/Chris-Craft consortium coverage in all of the top-five markets and many of the top-50 markets.

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Par, which was previously forced to give up its profitable baseball franchise in Philadelphia to Tribune Broadcasting-owned indie WPHL-TV, issued a lengthy statement expressing dismay at Fox’s decision to end their affiliation.

“We are shocked and outraged that WTXF, as a longstanding, loyal and founding Fox affiliate, will lose its affiliation,” the statement read. “Our commitment to the network — once relinquishing our profitable and highly popular Phillies games to make way for additional Fox programming — has been unconditional.

“All affiliates of Fox should take note of the level of loyalty and commitment Fox has exhibited to a member of the affiliate lineup that has helped make the network the success that it is. Apparently Fox’s loyalty only recognizes the partnership nature of a network-affiliate relationship when it is convenient to Fox’s own economic interest.”

A Fox spokesman declined to comment on the affil matter, but noted that it is pursuing a long-term strategy of getting “into top markets where we see opportunities.”

With its most recent purchase, Fox will gain even more bargaining power when it comes to acquiring syndicated programming for its group. It will now have nine stations in New York, L.A., Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and Salt Lake City.

Although the Fox O&O group will cover nearly 25% of the country with the purchase — the limit for one owner under Federal Communications Commission rules — the FCC will only count it as 20.8% because UHF stations are considered half-coverage.

Fox chair Rupert Murdoch used the station group as a launching pad for the Fox weblet and now it looks as though Par and Chris-Craft may take a similar path.

Should Chris Craft wind up buying Combine’s two remaining indie outlets, Chicago’s WGBO-TV and Miami’s WBFS-TV, it will also derail a bid by Tribune Broadcasting to buy the Chicago station.

According to sources, Trib wanted to take over WGBO, located in Joliet, Ill., and run it along with its own WGN-TV in Chicago under a license marketing agreement. The pacts permit two stations in a single market to consolidate management operations.

Par noted that it intends to go forward at WTXF with a number of firstrun series, including the syndicator’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine,””The Untouchables” and “The Arsenio Hall Show,” as well as other firstrun hours such as “Acapulco HEAT” and “Baywatch.”

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