Next big off-net thing could be `Malcolm in the Middle’

Jul 9, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Twentieth Television’s “Malcolm in the Middle” may have won the hearts of critics, but it’s the program’s off-net rights that are making stations salivate.
“Shows like this are a rare breed these days,” said one Tribune station manager hoping to be a player in off-net sales of the show. “It could play any time of day and still draw a wide range of demos.”
Twentieth could have enough “Malcolm” episodes under its belt to launch the series as early as 2003 but may hold off on the off-net debut until the 2004 season. Either way, the studio foresees strong demand for one of the few A-level sitcoms remaining to be sold.
“We’re in the middle of our plans now,” said Paul Franklin, executive vice president and general sales manager for Twentieth. “Sitcoms still represent the strongest form of branding there is, and with `Malcolm,’ we’ve got a show that audiences of all ages keep coming back to.”
Syndicated series have failed to pack a wallop in recent years. “Spin City” and “The Drew Carey Show” fell short of the impact of a “Friends”-or even a “Frasier”-the past two seasons in their off-net bows. However, all eyes will be on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Just Shoot Me” and “King of the Hill” as they make their debuts this season in syndication, in hopes that they will provide a jolt to the business.
“Series such as `Home Improvement,’ `Roseanne’ and `Married With Children’ have been the kinds of series that would continue to deliver a broad spectrum of audiences, drawing both men and women, young and old, which is why we consider `Malcolm’ to be so special,” said Joanne Burns, senior vice president of marketing, research and new media at Twentieth. “Even when `Malcolm’ aired outside its usual time period, we finished either No. 1 or No. 2 in its time slot.”
Twentieth execs are working with producer reps as the distributor anticipates opening the bidding process. According to company President Bob Cook, sales of the series will be considered on a market-by-market basis while the company entertains its cable options.