E.W. Scripps Co., owner of the Scripps-Howard newspapers and majority owner of the United Press International wire service, has signed a tentative agreement to buy the Business Review of Washington, a weekly newspaper started here in 1976 as the Fairfax Business Monthly.

A rapidly expanding Scripps subsidiary, Cordovan Corp. of Houston, already has established or acquired business news weeklies in nine major metropolitan centers since early this year and reportedly has a goal of operating such publications in 16 cities.

Business Review Publisher William Graff, who acquired the local newspaper in 1978 and began weekly publication that April, said last night that he and Scripps have signed letters of intent for Cordovan to buy the Washington newspaper for an undisclosed amount of cash, with a final due in about 30 days.

Graff said he would be a consultant to the new owners under a one-year contract but that he had no other immediate business plans.

The publication's 12 staff members, including editor Esther Smith, will continue under the new owners, Graff added. Currently, the Business Review has a circulation of about 14,000, including 2,500 paid subscribers, Graff said. Annual revenues of the paper now are about $500,000, and the Business Review had its first profitable month in November.

Cordovan, the Scripps subsidiary, recently started weekly Business Journals in Miami and Phoenix. It also owns Journals in Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and Houston, The Atlanta Business Chronicle and Dallas-Ft. Worth Business. All of the weeklies focus entirely on local business news, a spokesman for Cordovan said.

Informed sources said yesterday that Scripps is planning to open a business news reporting bureau in Washington to provide reporting for the business weeklies, which currently have a combined circulation of more than 100,000 a week.