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Fox Group Renews Affiliation With UPN

The pact ends a feud over payments between the station owner and the upstart network.

September 25, 2003|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

Struggling network UPN got a new lease on life Wednesday when the Fox station group agreed to renew its affiliation agreement with Viacom Inc. for stations in Los Angeles and other key markets.

Terms of the agreement were not released. The deal was considered crucial to the survival of the money-losing UPN network, because the Fox stations contribute a large portion of UPN's overall ratings.

News Corp. acquired the stations three years ago; they reach nearly a quarter of U.S. homes with televisions.

The two sides have been feuding for more than a year over payments, the Viacom network's anemic ratings and its patchwork of programming. UPN's ratings were down 14% for the year, placing it in last place among the six major broadcast networks.

Without the Fox stations, "it would have been problematic for the network to thrive," said Peter Schruth, UPN's president of affiliate relations. Much of the negotiation focused on the strategy of UPN management to improve the network's 10 hours of weekly prime-time programming.

UPN's eclectic lineup includes urban-oriented comedies, "Star Trek" spinoff "Enterprise" and World Wrestling Entertainment's "Smackdown."

Executives at UPN have been heartened by the early showing of two new sitcoms -- "Eve," starring the Grammy-winning hip-hop artist, and "All of Us," loosely based on the domestic life of series producers Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.

Fox executives declined to comment.

The pact covers nine stations, including KCOP-TV Channel 13 in Los Angeles and Fox outlets in New York, Chicago, Washington and Orlando, Fla. The UPN affiliates are in eight of the nine markets, including Los Angeles, where Fox owns two stations.

This year, News Corp. sued Viacom for $108 million in disputed payments for previous years for some of the stations, a move that some analysts interpreted as a ploy to gain leverage in the affiliation talks. That case is still pending.

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