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WQED reports revenue shortfall

Friday, May 31, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Seven months into its fiscal year, WQED Pittsburgh is $173,136 in the red, but station executives hope to reach the break-even point by September.

At a board meeting yesterday, the executives blamed the stalled economy and a decline in advertising revenue at Pittsburgh Magazine for the shortfall.

On the plus side, contributions are up by more than $219,000 compared with this time last year, and March pledge results totaled $812,995, 36 percent more than the station's $600,000 goal. The station still expects gross contributions for the year to be off by $400,000 due to a general decline in charitable giving that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

WQED has hired a new chief financial officer, Gary McCann, who fills a position that's been vacant for several years.

On the programming side, the station has more shows in production than at any time in more than a decade.

Rick Sebak is shooting his latest special, December's "Sandwiches That You Will Like," his first show produced for a national PBS pledge period. He's also planning two more national specials for next year: one on cemeteries and another on extraordinary buildings.

Two recently-taped concerts in the "American Soundtrack" series, "Red, White and Rock" and "This Land Is Your Land," will air locally in August. This weekend, T.J. Lubinsky, executive producer of fund raising, programming and syndication, travels to Las Vegas to tape the Righteous Brothers for the finale to "Red, White and Rock," the bulk of which was filmed in Pittsburgh.

Lubinsky has also made a pitch to PBS for more than $2.5 million in funding to produce nine more concerts next year.

He's also at work trying to duplicate his success with the syndication of "The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show" by getting rights to reruns of "The Carol Burnett Show." In previous rounds of syndication, comedians and musical acts were cut from Burnett's show, and Lubinsky would like to reinstate them.

Lubinsky's success in packaging stars of the past led the manager for Tony Orlando to contact him about producing a "Tony Orlando and Dawn" reunion, which has morphed into talks about an overall reunion of variety show stalwarts. Discussions are under way with Andy Williams, Glen Campbell and others.

A decision on whether to go forward with "The War that Made America," a massive proposed program about the French and Indian War, is expected by the end of June.

Sister station WQEX, which was off the air for several weeks while a new antenna was installed, went back on the air last week. It continues to simulcast WQED.

WQED executives are still waiting to hear from the Federal Communications Commission about their petition to change the license of WQEX from educational to commercial in order to sell the station to Diane Sutter's Shooting Star Broadcasting for $20 million. WQED president George Miles predicted that the deal will be done by the end of summer.

"I'm really feeling good about this. I've said that for five years," he said to laughs from his board, "but trust me, it's coming."

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