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Fox's recent raid that stole a dozen affiliates away from the Big Three networks - eight from CBS alone - has been the subject of many a David Letterman joke in recent months.

Although he has yet to start referring to CBS execs as "pinheads," a less-than-endearing term he used to use with NBC execs, late night's biggest star has had plenty of fun at his bosses' expense.It's rather ironic, then, that the loss of those affiliates may actually end up helping Letterman's "Late Show."

Several of those CBS affiliates switching to Fox - including several in large television markets - delay the "Late Show" a half hour, running syndicated sitcoms right after their late news and delaying Letterman to either 11:05 p.m. or 12:05 p.m., depending on the time zone.

(You know, just like KSL-Ch. 5 does locally.)

And that hurts Letterman's ratings. The later it gets, the fewer viewers are still watching TV.

Well, CBS won't be taking new affiliates unless they agree to clear Letterman right after the late news. So even if he does end up on a weaker UHF station, Dave will have a better time slot.

And, in all probability, his ratings will improve.

Rather ironically, should Letterman's already good ratings get better, it would make it that much more difficult for Fox to succeed with any late-night offerings of its own.

(Word is, however, that despite the network's insistence that it will get back into the late-night arena following the "Chevy Chase Show" debacle, those plans aren't just on the back burner - they're off the stove in the back of the kitchen cabinet.)

AFFILIATE SWITCHES CONTINUE: The fallout from Fox's raid continues - and continues to get weirder and weirder. Follow this, if you can:

ABC recently struck a deal with Scripps-Howard Broadcasting to affiliate with all five of that group's stations in a rather unusual 10-year agreement. (That's lots longer than what has heretofore been the norm.)

What makes this sort of strange is that, in order to preserve its strong stations in Detroit and Cleveland, ABC has sacrificed stations in Tampa, Fla., Phoenix and Baltimore.

Keep in mind that VHF stations (channels 2-13) have stronger signals and are thus more desirable that UHF stations (channels 14 and above).

ABC's deal with Scripps-Howard means the network maintains its VHF stations in Detroit (the ninth-biggest TV market) and Cleveland (No. 12). But it is trading VHF stations in Tampa (No. 15) and Phoenix (No. 20) for Scripps-owned UHF stations in those cities.

And in Baltimore, ABC's VHF affiliate - which is the No. 1 station in the market - is being jettisoned in favor of the current NBC affiliate, which is also owned by Scripps.

Pretty strange, huh?

CBS, which lost its VHF in Tampa to Fox, has already picked up the VHF that ABC dumped in that city. In other words, in Tampa CBS has made a lateral move while ABC has traded down.

(And Tampa is one of those markets that will see the "Late Show with David Letterman" move up to a more favorable time period.)

In Baltimore, NBC is expected to sign the old ABC affiliate.

Stranger still.

Salt Lake City has thus far been unaffected by all of this - Fox owns KSTU-Ch. 13, and KSL, KUTV and KTVX aren't making any moves anytime soon.

The only local station that might see some fallout in the near future is KJZZ. Ch. 14 has signed on as an affiliate of the forthcoming Paramount Network, and what with all the affiliates in play across the country the chances of Paramount succeeding have gone down of late.

NO SURPRISE: All of the action that Fox began when it stole those 12 Big Three network affiliates away has made the value of local stations soar in recent months.

Which is why it's no particular surprise that the investment group that is the majority owner of KUTV-Ch. 2 has decided to sell. There's money to be made there.

Undoubtedly, the value of KUTV has risen in recent months. Heck, even the value of KJZZ-Ch. 14 has risen in recent months.

QUICK OBSERVATION: It's impossible to get too excited about NBC's allegedly fabulous new "store-front window" studio for the venerable "Today" show.

Not when it's still inhabited by the decidedly less-than-fabulous Bryant Gumble.