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Plus for KTLA, Minus for KCOP

January 25, 2006|Martin Miller | Times Staff Writer

The alphabet-soup merger of UPN and the WB spells a solid victory for one local station and a resounding defeat for another.

The big winner in the Los Angeles area when the CW network debuts this fall is KTLA-TV Channel 5, which will be able to cherry-pick the best shows from the former UPN and its current WB prime-time lineups while losing a key competitor for the 18-to-34-year-old urban demographic group.

"It's a heck of a lineup for KTLA," said John Reardon, president of Tribune Broadcasting Co., who also served as KTLA's general manager from 1992 to 2004. "It's an exciting day for the station."

Tribune Broadcasting, whose parent, Tribune Co., also owns the Los Angeles Times, is a WB stakeholder. It signed a 10-year deal to carry the CW on its 19 WB affiliates nationwide. UPN shows such as "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Veronica Mars" will almost certainly be part of the network's beefier prime-time lineup, Reardon said.

KCOP-TV Channel 13, whose contract with CBS to carry UPN shows ends in August, will have to conjure up an entirely new slate of programming before the fall.

Executives at KCOP referred questions to News Corp., the parent company of Fox Television Stations Inc., which runs KCOP as well as Fox Channel 11. Executives with the New York-based company, caught off guard by Tuesday morning's announcement, nonetheless put a positive spin on the development.

"This gives us an opportunity to reprogram prime time," said Andrew Butcher, a News Corp. spokesman. "We're looking forward to it."

Asked about what direction the station might go, Butcher said, "This is Day 1; we've got six months to program."

Having apparently lost the race to capture a significant chunk of the 18-to-34 demographic group, Channel 13 might now target an older viewership, television industry observers speculated. Such a switch could take the form of original programming or showcasing reruns of once-popular shows such as "Frasier."

"As long as I can remember, KCOP has always been the doormat station," said Ron Fineman, a Web-based media critic who covers local television. "They're at a crossroads now."

"They are going to have to scramble," said Jonathan Taplin, an adjunct professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication. "They've got nothing right now, but this move had to happen. You had two networks that were barely hanging on and one had to go."

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