- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

NEW YORK The Apollo Theatre has hired a new team to produce its syndicated television amateur talent series, "Showtime at the Apollo," ending a bitter battle that sparked allegations of financial mismanagement at the famed theater.
The Heritage Networks, an independent distribution company based in New York, received a one-year contract, it was announced. Heritage will pay $1.6 million for the right to use the theater and its name.
"This is a great day for us as a company, for Harlem and for the icon that is the Apollo Theatre," Frank Mercado-Valdes, chief executive officer of Heritage, said at a news conference Wednesday.
Notably missing from the news conference and the new team was Percy Sutton, whose Inner City Broadcasting company lost the right to produce "Showtime" after 15 years.
Mr. Mercado-Valdes first showed interested in "Showtime" four years ago, sparking a bidding war that included his charge that Rep. Charles Rangel, a Harlem Democrat and then chairman of the theater foundation, was working with Mr. Sutton, a former Manhattan borough president, to the detriment of the Apollo.
The state attorney general's office filed a lawsuit in 1998 accusing Mr. Rangel and other board members of mismanaging the theater by not collecting $4.4 million from Inner City. The suit was settled when Mr. Sutton and his financial partners agreed to give the Apollo $500,000 that was matched by Time Warner, which gained control of the theater.
Both Mr. Rangel and Mr. Sutton deny any wrongdoing.
The issue was addressed by Richard Parsons, chief executive officer of AOL Time Warner and chairman of the Apollo Theatre Foundation, the nonprofit organization that runs the theater.
"We worked hard and assiduously with Percy to see if there was a way we could continue his involvement," Mr. Parsons said, adding that Mr. Sutton felt "this was not the direction in which he wanted to go."
Heritage, which specializes in programs aimed at minority and young audiences, bills itself as the largest black-owned and -operated marketing, sales and distribution company in broadcast television.
The show will be produced by Emmy winner Suzanne de Passe, who was born and raised in Harlem. She won an Emmy in 1985 as an executive producer of the TV special "Motown Returns to the Apollo." Her first Emmy was for "Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever."
As a teenager at the Apollo, she said, "I would sit up here and watch amateur night and take the subway home. It was in this building that I caught the show-business bug, and it's really moving for me to be back here."

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