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Some TV shows may not be available in WNY Friday<br> Dispute between Time Warner Cable and Sinclair Broadcasting goes down to wire

Jerry Springer and Judge Judy would be out. Bart Simpson and Dr. Gregory House would stick around.

A deal between Time Warner Cable and the owner of Buffalo's Fox and MyTV affiliates is set to expire at midnight Friday, and that could mean a change in what cable customers will see.

Sinclair Broadcasting, which owns WUTV and WNYO, warned this week that it has not yet reached a new deal with Time Warner to air its programming on cable and expects its stations to go off Time Warner's lineup when the deal expires.

But an agreement reached separately between Time Warner and Fox to air the national network's original shows during the dispute will mean Time Warner customers would see many of the prime-time favorites like "Glee," "American Idol" and new episodes of "The Simpsons."

Cable viewers, however, would not have access to local or syndicated programming on WUTV or any programming on WNYO if a blackout takes effect at midnight Friday.

"We prepare for all possibilities as to what might happen," said Matthew Tremblay, a Time Warner spokesman in Buffalo.

If a blackout occurs, cable viewers would see national Fox programs in their regular time slots on the same channel, Tremblay said. He did not have information Wednesday as to what, if anything, would be shown on the channel during time slots typically filled by local programming or syndicated shows.

Syndicated or locally carried shows aired by WUTV and WNYO -- such as "Jerry Springer" and "Judge Judy" or repeats of "Seinfeld" and "Law & Order" -- would not be shown.

At issue is the amount of money Time Warner Cable pays Sinclair to air 33 stations in 21 markets, including Buffalo. Although those stations are available for free over the air, cable companies pay broadcasters to retransmit that programming.

Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcasting on Tuesday announced that negotiations with Time Warner had broken down and that its stations would no longer be carried on Time Warner Cable after midnight Friday.

Both companies have been posturing in recent days to cast blame for a potential blackout on the other.

Sinclair, in its statement, said the negotiations had come to an end after Time Warner had refused to make a counterproposal to Sinclair's most recent offer.

"We simply do not understand why Time Warner insists on being treated better than its competition," Barry Faber, Sinclair's executive vice president and general counsel, said in the written statement.

Time Warner responded with a written statement that it would remain "open and willing to negotiate a reasonable agreement." The company blamed Sinclair for repeatedly declaring that discussions had ended.

"A blackout, if that's what happens, is not up to us," Tremblay said. "It's really Sinclair Broadcasting that chooses to pull their feed to us. So it's not us taking the programs off the air, but we will have solutions as best we can for every scenario."

One option to cable viewers is to use a digital antenna to view broadcasts of WUTV or WNYO over the air.

The negotiations between Time Warner and Sinclair are the latest to go to the brink of a deadline over retransmission fees in what has been an increasingly common outcome of talks between cable companies and station owners. Two years ago, two Bills games were blacked out for cable customers in Western New York because of a dispute between Time Warner and WIVB owner LIN TV.

While most retransmission negotiations do not reach the point of a blackout, those that do have often been settled within a few weeks.

Time Warner Cable is among a group of media companies that have asked federal lawmakers and the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider how those talks are regulated.

William T. Lake, chief of the FCC's Media Bureau, said earlier this month that the FCC plans to explore a "number of available options."

"The cash demands of broadcasters are rising faster than the distributor's willingness to pay," Lake said then. "And the result has been a growing number of cliff-hanger negotiations -- and some that have fallen off the cliff."

e-mail: djgee@buffnews.com

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