Bailing out on UPN

Sinclair protests netlet's claim to affil deals

Sinclair Communications CEO-designate Barry Baker sent a letter to UPN on Monday contesting the netlet’s claim that the Sinclair stations failed to legally end their affiliation agreements and contractually are bound to remain with UPN until 2001, sources said.

Baker has agreed not to discuss the matter publicly until noon today, at which point Sinclair is expected to take action if UPN does not retract its claims, sources said. On Friday, UPN notified Sinclair and the WB that Sinclair had missed its deadline to get out of its affiliation agreements with the netlet, which expire in January (Daily Variety, Aug. 4).

“UPN is desperately trying to do whatever they can to reverse the blow dealt to them by losing the five strong, major-market Sinclair Broadcast Group stations,” a WB spokesman said Monday in a statement. UPN had no comment.

Put it in writing

On July 14, Sinclair executives verbally told Paramount that the Sinclair stations in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati, San Antonio and Oklahoma City planned to switch to the WB when the contracts with UPN expired. But UPN contends that Sinclair never put it in writing by a July 15 deadline, six months before the expiration of the agreements.

Sinclair’s letter Monday disputed UPN’s claims, and sources said the station group is prepared to file suit if UPN does not withdraw from its current position. One source said Baker was so angry at UPN on Monday that “you had to scrape him off the roof.”

Baker, told Daily Variety he would not discuss the matter with the press until today, but he did say that he had not given UPN a “deadline or an ultimatum.”

Separately, the UPN-WB battle for stations escalated again Monday, with UPN announcing it had snagged two former WB affiliates: WAWB Richmond, Va., and WGVP Tallahassee, Fla. Richmond, market No. 59, and Tallahassee, market No. 114, will switch from WB to UPN affiliation Aug. 25, when UPN’s new season launches.

Kevin Tannehill, executive VP of network distribution at UPN, said in a statement, “We are thrilled to add full-power primary affiliates under long-term agreements in these previously non-affiliates markets.”

Still in balance?

The WB responded that the switch “does nothing to affect the balance of power of the two networks.” The WB now will look for alternate distribution in Richmond, where WB programming is carried on cable by superstation WGN. In Tallahassee, the WB plans to replace the station with the WeB cable distribution system it is creating.

UPN also confirmed Monday that Valerie Cavanaugh will leave her post as senior VP of business affairs to take a sabbatical, as expected. June M. Baldwin has joined UPN as a consultant in business affairs, legal and broadcast standards, and she’ll take over Cavanaugh’s duties in the interim.

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