The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Saturday, October 14, 1995             TAG: 9510140278
                                             LENGTH: Medium:   79 lines


In a move that will further scramble what already is a topsy-turvy race for local viewers and ad dollars, television stations WVEC and WPEN said Friday that they've formed a prime-time programming partnership.

WVEC, the local ABC affiliate, said it will place 2 1/2 hours of weeknight programs, including a new 10 p.m. local newscast, onto the independent WPEN, beginning Nov. 8.

The two stations will share ad revenues and WVEC will bear most of the costs under the deal. It will greatly increase exposure for the fledgling WPEN and give WVEC another outlet for attracting viewers.

The partnership is the third among Hampton Roads TV stations in the last year. Last month CBS affiliate WTKR signed a deal to produce a 10 p.m. local newscast for airing on United Paramount Network affiliate WGNT.

Late last year, WAVY, the Hampton Roads NBC affiliate, essentially took over the management of WVBT, the local Warner Brothers station. WAVY's parent company, LIN Television Corp., has an option to buy the smaller station if federal rules are changed to let broadcasters own more than one full-power station per market.

The WVEC-WPEN deal leaves Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., owner of Fox Broadcasting affiliate WTVZ, as the only major commercial TV station owner in Hampton Roads without a partnership with another TV station.

Industry sources said WTVZ and WVEC, which is owned by Dallas-based A.H. Belo Corp., had discussed a possible programming partnership. Lee Salzberger, president and general manager of WVEC, confirmed he had talked to representatives of another station. He declined to identify the station.

Salzberger called the deal with WPEN ``an opportunity for WVEC to extend its brand and engage in a relationship with another creative broadcaster that I think will be beneficial to both.''

WPEN's general manager, David Hanna, said the alliance is ``obviously a vote of confidence for us, an endorsement of what we've done.''

WPEN, based in Hampton and owned by Harvard-schooled construction executive James L. Lockwood Jr., has sprung from the back woods of the local TV market onto most Hampton Roads cable systems in three years.

It has done so largely by landing exclusive Hampton Roads broadcast rights to some highly rated syndicated TV shows like ``M*A*S*H'' and the games of popular sports teams like the Baltimore Orioles. But its ratings are miniscule and its prime-time schedule has been relatively weak, largely because Hanna has been unwilling to let his best shows be crushed in the prime-time ratings race by long-established network affiliates.

Hanna said the programs supplied by WVEC will give his station a fighting chance. WVEC's half-hour 10 p.m. broadcast, which will feature anchors at both WVEC studios in Norfolk and Hampton, will be a ``fresh'' show separate from WVEC's other news programs.

Meanwhile, the ``Inside Edition'' and ``The Maury Povich Show,'' which now run after midnight on WVEC, are among the top-rated syndicated programs nationally in their categories. They'll run at 8:30 and 9 p.m., respectively, on WPEN and will repeat in their current late-night time slots on WVEC.

Also moving to WPEN is a rebroadcast of WVEC's 6 p.m. news.

WVEC's Salzberger said he considered the risk of diluting his station's prime-time viewership in supplying WPEN with the shows. In the end, Salzberger bet that the strengthened WPEN will gain enough viewers from other local stations or cable networks to make up for any loss of audience for WVEC's shows.

Edward Munson Jr., WAVY's president and general manager, called the WVEC-WPEN partnership, particularly the 10 p.m. news, ``a smart move.'' He said his station is considering a 10 p.m. local news show of its own on WVBT.

Munson said the battle for viewers and ad dollars - an estimated $90 million a year for local TV stations - will grow more intense in the next few years. WVBT's main transmitter, for instance, will soon be moved from Chesapeake to WAVY's tower in Suffolk, doubling the height of the transmitter to 1,000 feet and its power from 950,000 to 2.5 million watts. That will increase WVBT's reach and help get it onto more cable systems.

WPEN's Hanna said he too is moving to increase reach. Technically, WPEN is a string of low-power stations. Its widening coverage in Hampton Roads is largely due to getting onto the channel lineups of cable operators. Now, Hanna said WPEN is seeking a license for a full-power station in the market. by CNB