Studios spat over

USA to roll 'Sally,' 'Maury' in hotel as planned

NEW YORK — A tenant/landlord dispute that threatened to interfere with the production of Studios USA’s “The Sally Jessy Raphael Show” and the new “Maury Povich Show” has been resolved and the production schedule of the two strips should proceed as planned.

Earlier this year, Studios USA hired MTI/The Image Group to build two adjacent studios to produce “Sally Jessy” and “Maury Povich” in the Hotel Pennsylvania, but landlord Vornado — who wanted to evict MTI as part of its plan to turn the hotel into the Official All-Star Hotel — convinced a judge to issue a temporary restraining order to stop MTI’s construction.

Vornado, headed by Steve Roth, also had MTI CEO William Dalessandro arrested for criminal trespassing when he tried to enter his company’s studio one day in late April. Dalessandro spent the night in jail.

MTI’s lawyers have succeeded in fending off the legal charges. On May 12 in New York Supreme Court, Judge Harold Tompkins removed the temporary restraining order against MTI. Dalessandro said that construction on the two studios will be finished by early July, when production is scheduled to begin on the two syndicated strips.

On Tuesday, Dalessandro persuaded a district attorney in New York criminal court to dismiss the trespass charges against him.

Dalessandro said that while his company’s relationship with Vornado, which owns the Hotel Pennsylvania in a partnership with Planet Hollywood, is much better, the bickering is not over. MTI executives have accused Vornado of harassing its employees in a variety of ways.

Danny Finkelstein, the lawyer representing Vornado, did not return a call seeking comment.

“It’s a matter of the hotel giving its employees the word that the war is over and they should stop shooting,” said Dalessandro, who formed MTI 20 years ago. “They’re still giving us problems like locking the doors on us.”

Dalessandro said he was appreciative of Studios USA sticking by MTI. He said that several top Studios USA executives, such as Richard Ross and Henry Schlief, met with Vornado executives to help resolve the situation.

A Studios USA representative declined to discuss the MTI-Vornado dispute in detail.

“This happens to be a dispute between our landlord and the hotel owner,” the rep said. “They seem to be making progress in resolving their differences.”

Vornado has argued that MTI violated its lease by making certain structural changes to the hotel. Dalessandro, who denies that MTI did anything to violate the terms of the lease, said his outfit has 27 more years left on the lease.

MTI has the contract from Studios USA to build the studios and provide all the below-the-line expertise for the two syndicated shows. Had MTI been unable to fulfill its contract, Dalessandro expected Studios USA to sue MTI, which could have dealt a fatal blow to the company.