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Fox’s off-net solution

Aug 6, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Fox has either made agreements or is in negotiations with syndicators ranging from Carsey-Werner to Warner Bros. to Columbia TriStar that would allow the former Chris-Craft stations-now owned by Fox-to air an afternoon block of off-network sitcoms that also air on Fox stations.
Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution’s “The Drew Carey Show” and Carsey-Werner-Mandabach’s “3rd Rock From the Sun” are among the series that will likely be run on both sets of stations, sources said. Columbia TriStar Television Distribution series that have some Fox clearances, such as the upcoming “Steve Harvey Show” and “The Nanny,” as well as product from Twentieth Television, such as “King of the Hill,” are also likely candidates for the shared run.
Although plans for the repurposing of the shows into an afternoon block are still in the early stages, the former Chris-Craft stations, which have remained virtually silent on program acquisitions since the merger was announced, are now scrambling to fill out their fall lineups, according to one general manager.
“It was a difficult wait, and I look forward to working with our new owners to take advantage of our new resources,” he said.
In terms of Monday-through-Friday fare, Chris-Craft stations such as KCOP-TV in Los Angeles had already been airing double runs of virtually all their own first-run product. For example, during the day on KCOP, four hour-long series currently air twice between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., including “Jenny Jones,” “Ricki Lake,” “Maury” and “Montel Williams.” One series, “Blind Date,” airs three times a day outside that time frame.
Among weekly fare, the station group is still reeling from heavy losses this year, including the cancellations of “Battledome” and “Queen of Swords” and the loss of “Maximum Exposure” to other groups. Even the long-running “Baywatch Hawaii” withered away due to old age.
The problem facing the move of off-network series to Chris-Craft stations is that many of the series were originally signed to air only on the original Fox stations, and shifting the broadcaster and/or adding an additional run of the series would require a restructuring of contracts.
“What’s ironic about this is that if the merger was known before these deals took place, the syndicators probably wouldn’t have gotten any more money out of the stations,” said October Moon Television President Charles Larsen. “But now there is little motivation for the syndicator to say yes to the repurposing of their off-network lineup unless there’s extra money in it for them.”
Mr. Larsen said if the deal involved the same number of runs for a series such as “Drew Carey,” “They wouldn’t have to pay a whole lot more.” But if a third run were added to the mix, then the harder financial discussions would begin.
Also in the mix are advertisers, as many of the series would shift to a whole new daypart.
For advertisers, the Fox Television Stations’ completed acquisition of eight major-market UPN affiliates from the former Chris-Craft/United Television group could provide a unique double-run (or quadruple-run) platform for off-network sitcoms. Already, some advertising sources see sharing of programming in local duopolies as a way to possibly achieve some greater efficiencies in terms of audience delivery and discounts on consolidated commercial-unit buying.
“If the combination of those two stations’ runs resulted in a 4 rating [locally] for a show, marketers might find it more efficient than buying two programs at a 2 rating each,” said John Rash, chief broadcast negotiator for Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis.
While ad buyers said they see potential benefits to buying concurrent duopoly runs of off-network sitcoms relatively new to their back-end syndication cycles, they are a bit leery of multiple platforms for older off-network sitcoms deeper into repeat cycles, such as Columbia TriStar’s “Mad About You” and “The Nanny.”
That is one of the reasons Mr. Rash thinks the Fox parent company is exempting “The X-Files” back-end weekday run from the FTS group.
“What must be remembered is that viewers are accessing these newer programs for their popularity and convenience in a multichannel universe, not because it is being repurposed to amortize or cut the costs of these programs for their studios,” Mr. Rash said.