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The $33 million deal that Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. of Baltimore made with the Western New York Public Broadcasting Association to buy Channel 23 and make it a commercial station is in jeopardy of falling apart, association president Donald K. Boswell confirmed Tuesday.

"We've been hearing all of the above but nothing is in writing," said Boswell. "We can't get an answer about what they want to do."

Reached in Baltimore, Pat Talamantes, the chief financial officer of Sinclair, said: "The deal is still in place and we continue to have discussions with the Western New York Public Broadcasting Association."

He declined to discuss what those discussions were about. But other sources speculate that Sinclair is unhappy with the price tag and the delays that have occurred since the deal -- believed to be the first sale of a public television station -- was announced in August of 1998.

The purchase still has one final hurdle to clear with the FCC, which ruled in late July that the local public broadcasting group could sell its second station to Sinclair. (Channel 17 is the other local PBS station.) The ruling was subject to a possible appeal. Channel 49 and Channel 7 were among those who earlier argued unsuccessfully against the sale to the commercial broadcaster.

Boswell said WNYPBA will find out what Sinclair wants to change about the deal "and see if it is less than other offers we've had in the past."

The association had planned to use between $7 million and $10 million of the purchase price to convert Channel 17 to digital broadcast early in the next century, as mandated by the FCC. The rest of the money would be used to fund an endowment to enhance production and community service programs.

"It is frustrating," said Boswell of the snag. "But we did have other interest."

Sinclair, which owns Fox affiliate Channel 29, has purchased a good deal of programming to put on WNEQ-TV. The plan for Channel 23 was to carry reruns in the fall of 2000 of Spin City, Suddenly Susan, Moesha, The Jamie Foxx Show, Cheers, 7th Heaven and possibly Grace Under Fire and Voyager. Movies would also be a large part of the mix.

Sinclair said last week that it expected its third-quarter broadcast revenues to be down 1 percent on a pro-forma basis from a year ago, and projected that fourth-quarter broadcast revenues would be down 9 percent. As a result, it said it was going to put more money into sales, programming and promotion at its existing TV properties.

Boswell said he hopes the Channel 23 issue will be decided within 60 to 90 days. Until it is is, Channel 23 is being programmed two months in advance, carrying the same material it has aired in the past.

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