Appellate court allows WNUV shift to Warner 4 other stations in 4 states affected by ruling backing Sinclair Broadcast Group


January 13, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Maryland's intermediate appellate court yesterday refused to block the switch of Channel 54 from affiliation with the United Paramount Network to Warner Brothers.

The Court of Special Appeals ruling, anticipated by UPN, may not be appealed. UPN had already found a new local universe for its starship, "Star Trek: Voyager," on Channel 24.

The decision also clears the way for the entry Friday of the WB Network, home of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer," into the Baltimore market.

"We were confident that we would win," said Michael J. Collins, one of several attorneys for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which operates WNUV.

The four-line decision affects four other Sinclair stations, in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, and may influence the outcome of four more involved in an identical court battle in California.

Last summer, Baltimore-based Sinclair signed a 10-year, $84 million deal with Warner Brothers to switch five stations, including WNUV, to WB affiliation. Sinclair canceled its UPN affiliation for those stations, prompting UPN to challenge the validity of the termination. But UPN lost in Baltimore Circuit Court last month and again yesterday.

UPN declined to comment.

The loss could have shoved UPN out of the Baltimore market. While in some cities, there are enough local stations to offer each of the six networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, WB and UPN -- a spot on the dial, Baltimore had only five stations. In something akin to the game of musical chairs, WB was left out until now.

But UPN had no intention of being omitted.

In November, the co-owner of UPN, Chris-Craft United Television, bought Channel 24, WHSW. It will move "Star Trek: Voyager" there and bring in its other programs some time during the first quarter of this year, according to a UPN spokeswoman. The call letters will be changed as well.

The Home Shopping Network has been planning a move to cable.

In arguments before the Court of Special Appeals, lawyers for UPN claimed that the company was not given written 180-day notice by Sinclair that their agreement was being canceled, and Sinclair's attorneys countered that the contract allowed for 120-day notification. The three-judge panel ruled that the notification provided was adequate.

Pub Date: 1/13/98

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