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Channels 2 and 31 merge -- and that's bad news for the former

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Since late spring-early summer, I've been hearing rumblings about negotiations to combine operations at two rival TV organizations: Channel 2, a Tribune outlet and CW affiliate, and Channel 31, part of the Fox system. Indeed, I mentioned this very prospect in a July 3 blog about Channel 2's launch of a 5:30 p.m. newscast. Yesterday, however, the rumor was finally confirmed -- and as expected, Channel 2 looks to be on the short end of the merger.

Joanne Ostrow's version of the development in today's Denver Post sports the headline "Fox, CW Merge Operations But Newscasts Will Compete." Although this banner is no doubt a reflection of the information she gathered, it's a dubious statement nonetheless. After all, the stations' newscasts go head to head at 9 p.m. -- and in a revenue-sharing situation, that means they'll be eating from the same pie rather than trying to take bites out of someone else's. Moreover, Channel 31, which is already attracting double the audience as Channel 2 at 9 p.m., will be in the first-among-equals position.

Tribune owner Sam Zell, described as a "human wrecking ball" by the Washington Post, has been energetically cutting costs at most if not all of his properties, including Channel 2. Example: the station's decision not to renew the contract of veteran sports anchor Marc Soicher a few months back. The merger speeds up this process dramatically. Channel 2 will abandon its longtime headquarters, at I-25 and Orchard Road, and move into Channel 31's Speer Avenue facility. And as pointed out by veteran broadcasting-writer Dusty Saunders, who came off the buy-out bench to write an account of the deal for the Rocky Mountain News, Channel 2 employees will have to reapply for their gigs in order to keep them. To make this situation even less pleasant, new Channel 31 head man Dennis Leonard is the man in the decider role. That's because current Channel 2 general manager Jim Zerwekh has been handed his head; he remains on the job only through the end of the month.

What happens next is anyone's guess. Clearly, Channel 2's prime-time programming has value: The CW is the home of buzzed-about shows such as Gossip Girl, 90210 and America's Next Top Model, among others. But the local news products haven't exactly been racking up ratings victories of late. As a result, it's hard to imagine that Channel 2's evening newscast will stay at 9 p.m. over the long haul. Will it? Or might it move to 8 p.m.? Or 8:30 p.m.? Or 10 p.m.? Or could it go away entirely without violating the just-reached local marketing agreement, which is overseen by the Federal Communications Commission?

Those questions will begin to be answered October 1, when the merger takes effect -- and when the Channel 2 that Denver viewers have come to know over more than fifty years will no longer exist. -- Michael Roberts

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