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Bridges TV closes local office, goes to N.Y. City; Orchard Park site was murder scene

Bridges TV has ceased operations in the Orchard Park office park where the network's co-founder, Aasiya Zubair Hassan, was killed in 2009 by the other founder, her estranged husband Muzzammil S. Hassan.

The Muslim lifestyle network was the brainchild of the couple, who launched it from their Orchard Park home in 2004 with national media attention amid expectations that it would help counter negative stereotypes of Muslims.

But last week employees packed up equipment from the Thorn Avenue studio offices and moved the digital cable and satellite network to Long Island City, just outside Manhattan, where it will operate as part of SoundView Broadcasting.

"Bridges TV is basically under new management, so as a result of that, we have to move to New York City," said Hunaid Baliwala, the network's general manager. "It's a wonderful opportunity."

The Buffalo News learned that SoundView Broadcasting, a privately held company that provides broadcast and distribution services for several international satellite and cable television channels in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, will be taking over operation of Bridges TV.

Baliwala would not confirm the name of the company on Thursday, but he said a formal announcement will come after the two parties work out details of the transition.

The network struggled to survive in the wake of the murder of Zubair Hassan, who was stabbed dozens of times and found decapitated inside the studio offices. Muzzammil Hassan, who had a history of domestic violence, was convicted in February and sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison.

Zubair Hassan, the inspiration for the network's founding, had initiated divorce proceedings at the time of her death.

Bridges TV operators hoped to honor Zubair Hassan's memory by improving programming, building viewership and becoming a go-to channel for Muslims and others, but the network wasn't able to recapture the promise that came with its launch in 2004.

Without adequate funding, the network offered little original programming, and a lack of exposure prevented more investors and advertisers from stepping forward with much needed capital. As a result, viewer interest faded, even though network operators cited its growing availability in households around the country.

The network currently is available in an estimated 4 million homes nationwide, via cable and satellite.

Faizan Haq, who teaches communications at Buffalo State College and the University at Buffalo, said Bridges TV didn't realize its potential while based in Western New York. "It has a lot to do with the tragedy that just bogged this organization down," Haq said.

A fresh start might help the network make a break from its troubled past, he added.

Haq believes the venture could have worked in Western New York if not for the horrific crime that became associated with it.

The New York City move will allow Bridges TV to keep all of its operations in house; in Orchard Park, the network contracted with an outside firm for its servers and relied on WNED-TV studios in downtown Buffalo to deliver programming via a fiber-optic link to a satellite provider on Staten Island, for nationwide distribution.

In New York City, the network will have much greater access to international diplomats and other potential guests for its news operation, Baliwala said.

"Attracting high-profile guests was always an issue for us in Buffalo," he said.

Baliwala described the move as "a natural progression for Bridges." He said it was not driven by the tragic events of 2009.

"We can realize the dream of maybe doing newscasts live, much sooner than we could have in Buffalo," he said. "It just made a lot of sense."

Baliwala was joined by news anchor Joe Gugliuzza and sales and program director Mohamed Numan Ali in making the move to the New York City area.

Former news anchor Tooba Khilji stayed in Buffalo and has been replaced by Samantha Martinez.