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WADL sends cease-and-desist to Scripps over CW in Detroit

Station owner Kevin Adell says his company may commence legal action against Nexstar, Scripps if CW move is permanent.

Station owner Kevin Adell says his company may commence legal action against Nexstar, Scripps if CW move is permanent.

An aerial photograph shows the television studios of Adell-owned WADL-TV in Detroit. (Courtesy photo)
An aerial photograph shows the television studios of Adell-owned WADL-TV in Detroit. (Courtesy photo)

The owner of an independent TV station in Detroit has threatened legal action against the E. W. Scripps Company and Nexstar Media Group after the companies announced a deal concerning the CW Network affiliation in the region.

The threat was formally made in a cease-and-desist letter sent to executives at Scripps and its TV station, WMYD (Channel 20) by attorneys representing the owner of Adell Broadcasting and its TV station, WADL (Channel 38), in which Adell claimed Scripps and Nexstar were conspiring to harm WADL’s business and interfere in a pending purchase of the station by Mission Broadcasting.

On Monday, Scripps and Nexstar announced WMYD would become the new home of the CW Network in Detroit, starting on November 13. The affiliation deal comes two weeks after WADL pulled CW Network shows and sports from its station, a move that came after Adell said discussions between it and Nexstar broke down.

Nexstar owns a controlling stake in the CW Network, which it acquired from Paramount Global and Warner Bros Discovery last year. Shortly after that deal went through, Paramount said it was dropping the CW Network from eight of its TV stations, including WKBD (Channel 50) in Detroit.

The move left Nexstar scrambling to ink new affiliation deals in the eight affected markets. In May, Mission Broadcasting said it would buy WADL from Adell Broadcasting in a deal valued at around $75 million.

TV stations owned and licensed to Mission are entirely controlled by Nexstar through shared services agreements, and those agreements triggered objections by public interest groups who urged the Federal Communications Commission to block the deal. The groups claim Mission acts as a proxy for Nexstar, in that it allows Nexstar to sidestep federal ownership caps that limit how many stations any one broadcaster may possess to its name. They also say the deal gives Nexstar too much concentration of power, in that it would allow the company to demand cable and satellite companies pay high fees to carry WADL once Mission acquires it.

Document: Read the cease-and-desist letter sent to Scripps (PDF)

In a lengthy phone call with The Desk on Tuesday, Adell Broadcasting owner Kevin Adell said he’s treated Mission and Nexstar as separate legal entities throughout the process. To that end, Adell said he agreed to broadcast the CW Network on WADL on the belief that Mission’s deal for the station would go through.

WADL began airing CW Network shows in September, while the Mission deal was still pending at the FCC. With the acquisition held up, Adell said he reached out to Nexstar CEO Perry Sook with the hope that the deal could be re-worked.

Among other things, Adell said he hoped Nexstar would ease up on a requirement that Mission cede retransmission consent negotiations to Nexstar, something that has been a point of contention among public interest groups opposing the deal. Allowing Mission to negotiate carriage of WADL on its own, without Nexstar’s involvement, would make it easier for all sides to put up favorable arguments at the FCC, Adell said.

Instead, Nexstar rebuffed Adell’s offers to renegotiate the deal. At one point, Adell said Nexstar sent “some old retired person who is on his way out to add color to this [deal],” which led to his ultimatum: Nexstar needed to pay for the CW’s distribution on WADL, or the programming would be dropped. (The comments were made early in the phone call, when Adell mistakenly believed he was speaking with his attorney, who shares the same first name as this reporter. The Desk is choosing to withhold from publication specific details about the pending deal between Adell and Mission, which were inadvertently disclosed by Adell on the call.)

Nexstar never got back to him. So, late last month, Adell decided to pull CW Network programming from WADL. In the cease-and-desist letter sent to Scripps, attorneys representing Adell called the move “temporary.” But Nexstar didn’t see it that way: This week, the company announced a new agreement with Scripps to move the CW Network programming to WMYD. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The announcement angered Adell, who believes it is part of a broader conspiracy by Scripps and Nexstar to interfere with Mission’s purchase of WADL.

“If Nexstar and Mission are separate companies, and they’re totally independent — that’s what they’re telling the FCC — that’s what I’m going on,” Adell told The Desk, after he realized he was speaking with a reporter. “I have to protect any interference between us and Mission. The whole Mission deal is because of the CW — that’s why they’re buying the station.”

Adell said the cease-and-desist letter sent on Tuesday was intended to convince Scripps and Nexstar to abandon their plans to move CW Network programming to WMYD on Monday. If that doesn’t happen, he said he will likely seek an injunction preventing the CW Network from airing on WMYD.

“I might have to sue Nexstar,” Adell said. “I might have to do that.”

A spokesperson for Scripps said the company did not have a comment on Adell’s letter. Gary Weitman, the communications officer for Nexstar, did not return an email seeking comment.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).