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KCET-TV said to be in talks to sell landmark studio to Church of Scientology

KCET, which has been struggling to rebuild viewership after its split from PBS, plans to move to a smaller location, real estate brokers say.

March 31, 2011|By Roger Vincent and Scott Collins, Los Angeles Times

Financially strapped KCET-TV is in talks to sell its landmark Sunset Boulevard studio to the Church of Scientology, according to people who know about the pending deal.

The Los Angeles television station, which is struggling to rebuild viewership after its recent split from PBS, plans to move its operations to a smaller location, real estate brokers said. Station officials have been touring potential sites, brokers said.

Terms of the potential deal were unavailable, but the 4.5-acre property at 4401 W. Sunset Blvd. has an assessed value of $14.1 million, according to county records. Individuals inside the station and real estate consultants who were not authorized to speak publicly about the transaction confirmed the likely sale.

The expected sale comes as KCET has embarked on perhaps the most perilous journey in its 45-year history.

In January, the station exited PBS and became the nation's largest independent public broadcasting station. KCET officials had tangled for months with network officials over dues, claiming that the $7 million the station had to pay annually represented more than its fair share.

Dropping the PBS brand meant getting rid of the dues burden but also losing signature shows such as "Sesame Street," "News Hour" and " Charlie Rose." KCET switched to a lineup of documentaries and news programs, as well as repeats of old PBS stalwarts such as "Prime Suspect." The PBS shows were picked up by KOCE-TV in Orange County, which became the region's primary network outlet.

The effect was immediate. KCET's ratings have plunged without its familiar schedule. And individual donations — the lifeblood of any public broadcaster — have taken a sharp hit as well. March pledge drives raised much less money than expected, according to a station insider who spoke on condition of anonymity.

KCET President Al Jerome did not return a phone call and email seeking comment about the negotiations. Church of Scientology officials also did not respond to requests for comment

Speculation has centered for months on whether KCET would sell its historic Los Feliz studio lot in a bid to raise cash. Asked about the possibility last fall, Jerome confirmed that the station had informally discussed selling the facility, but he characterized those talks as routine and stressed that a deal was not imminent.

The lot, which has served as a studio since 1912, was formerly the home of Monogram Pictures and Allied Artists. Scenes for dozens of notable films were shot there over the years, including "El Cid" with Charlton Heston, John Ford's "Hurricane" and the Charlie Chan mysteries.

The Clearwater, Fla.-based Church of Scientology was incorporated in Los Angeles in 1954 and owns dozens of properties in Los Angeles County, including the former Cedars of Lebanon Hospital at Sunset Boulevard and L. Ron Hubbard Way.

KCET's studio buildings contain 300,000 square feet of space, according to real estate data provider CoStar Group. Tenants who rent space there include broadcasters Huell Howser and Tavis Smiley.

Longtime movie and television studios in urban Los Angeles County have been sought-after investments in recent years. NBC Studios in Burbank was acquired by Santa Monica developer M. David Paul & Associates in 2008.

The original Warner Bros. studio in Hollywood, now home to KTLA-TV Channel 5 and other entertainment companies, was sold for $125 million in 2008 to Los Angeles real estate investment firm Hudson Capital. Hudson also bought Sunset Gower Studios, the former Columbia Pictures headquarters, for $200 million in 2007.

roger.vincent@latimes.com

scott.collins@latimes.com

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