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Martin to leave KABC

The highly anticipated bidding war for KABC-TV’s Ann Martin took an unexpected turn Thursday, with station management notifying the news staff that it would replace the highly regarded anchor when her contract expires in mid-April.

KABC general manager Alan Nesbitt said hetook the surprise action because he could not reach an agreement with Martin’s agent, attorney Ed Hookstratten.

Nesbitt wouldn’t comment on specifics of the KABC offer, but sources said the Capital Cities/ABC-owned station was willing from the beginning to pay the 18 -year station vet, who anchors the 5 and 11 p.m. newscasts, $ 1.3 million-$ 1.35 million annually under a new 5-year deal — a substantial increase over her current $ 750,000 salary. The station also offered to provide Martin with network fill-in anchoring duties.

With KABC out of the picture, KCBS-TV is now considered to be the front-runner for Martin’s services.

Firm deal

Sources said the third-place O&O has offered her a firm deal that could start at $ 1.4 million or $ 1.5 million annually (encompassing a huge signing bonus), escalating to as high as $ 1.7 million by the final year.

The network also likely would kick in some money (possibly $ 200,000-$ 300, 000 a year) toward the total, which would be a market record for a male or female anchor, surpassing Paul Moyer’s current deal at KNBC-TV. As previously reported, CBS Broadcast/Group president Howard Stringer has been involved in wooing Martin to the web (Daily Variety, Feb. 24).

KNBC has yet to put a bid on the table, but it’s believed the Peacock O&O is not willing to ante up more than $ 1 million annually for Martin.

The station appears to be hoping that it could benefit from Martin without having to pony up seven figures for her. Under this theory, top-rated KABC would suffer without her while KCBS would not reap much benefit.

Race theory

Sources, however, suggest that Martin believes she could help turn the current lopsided two-way race into a three-way battle if she goes to KCBS. Fox-owned KTTV, meanwhile, also has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Martin. But the station is already paying $ 450,000-$ 475,000 annually for former KNBC anchor John Beard, and would have difficulty amortizing the cost with only one hour of news per day. A network O&O could spread the costs for Martin out over two newscasts a day.

With KABC taking itself out of the running, one market source speculated that Martin’s pricetag might drop.

High regard

Nesbitt, who was named to the G.M. position at KABC last November, said he has a “very high personal regard for (Martin) both personally and professionally ,” and noted that she would have preferred to stay at the station.

While he tried “diligently” to strike a deal, Nesbitt said Hookstratten never responded to KABC’s offer.

“This station is not going to get in the mode of being taken to the last minute on a matter this important,” Nesbitt said. “We have people who want to be here, who want to negotiate. But her representative didn’t want to negotiate.”

Hookstratten, who did not return calls, has had a strained relationship with KABC over the years. He was at odds with ABC O&O prez Larry Pollock during the protracted negotiations to keep Moyer at KABC.

Hookstratten, whose client list includes many of the market’s high-profile talent, is known for going to the wire in contract negotiations and playing one station against another.

Nesbitt said the decision to let Martin go was his call. Although he believes anchors make a “big difference”– Martin supposedly has the highest popularity score for a woman anchor in the market — he said newscasts are dependent “on more than just one or two people.”

He insisted the memo announcing Martin’s departure is not part of some negotiating ploy to force Hookstratten to the bargaining table. Sources said the station set a midnight deadline on Wednesday for Hookstratten to respond to its offer. Nesbitt said he would permit Martin to stay on the air until her deal is up, but noted she will be taking some vacation days over the next month, including one scheduled for today.

KABC is looking at candidates both inside and outside the station to replace her, Nesbitt said.

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