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The ‘Monk’ model: Rethinking repurposing

Aug 12, 2002  •  Post A Comment

In an effort to break out of its two-year ratings slump, ABC has joined with former cable nemeses USA Network and Home Box Office to mount new programming initiatives.
On paper, it seemed simple enough: USA Network agreed to let ABC license a second shared broadcast window for its hit “Monk” drama on ABC. ABC also entered into a two-year program development pact with HBO Independent Productions.
The breaking down of barriers between broadcast and cable networks has been a vision of ABC Television Entertainment Group business affairs architect Mark Pedowitz. Mr. Pedowitz’s deals for “Once and Again” to have a secondary cable run on Lifetime a few years ago and for “The Court’s” guaranteed back-end deal with Warner Bros. Television were industry templates for how broadcast networks could do business with cable.
But in a move that turns the concept of repurposing on its head, Mr. Pedowitz and ABC announced that “Monk,” which is co-produced by Disney’s Touchstone Television unit, will get a four-episode secondary window in ABC’s 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. (ET) Tuesday time slot starting this week. The deal is a departure from typical broadcast network practice that dictates that repurposed series are first aired on broadcast and then televised in secondary plays on cable.
“From the time Touchstone started to develop `Monk’ [two years ago], we had worked in an option for [ABC] to take a secondary window on the show,” said Mr. Pedowitz, executive VP of ABC Television Entertainment Group.
But he added that ABC also has the rights to reverse a shared “Monk” deal, whereby the broadcast network could get the first window and USA Network the secondary run at the end of USA’s current 13-episode order from Touchstone.
“We have an agreement with USA to have ongoing discussions on how to go forward in the future,” Mr. Pedowitz said. “If the experiment makes sense for us, we could make it more of a permanent solution for [ABC], which means we could … go first and they go second. It may stay the same or could be a variety of different things. Again, USA does not have the same reach as a broadcast network like ABC, so that was the whole theory behind this deal, originally.”
However, Doug Herzog, president of USA Network, said that while USA has been holding discussions and has been asked by ABC to grant it first exhibition rights, the cable network still holds those cards-at least for the initial 13-episode order with Touchstone.
“They have asked but they have not been granted that yet,” Mr. Herzog said. “Those are ongoing discussions, but ultimately, everybody will try to do what is best for the show and for [each] network. We feel very strongly about how well `Monk’ has done for USA, and as the guy who runs this network I’m looking to get as much exclusive programming as possible. But we’ll try to do what works for both parties, because Disney and ABC have been good corporate partners.”
At a time when the broadcast networks are looking to schedule more original programming in the summer (aside from the burgeoning flow of unscripted reality series), ABC’s secondary window on “Monk”-an offbeat who-done-it cop drama starring Tony Shalhoub-gives it a scripted series at about one-quarter the license fee it normally would pay for a broadcast-only series.
Production and network sources estimated that ABC is paying only $350,000 to $375,000 per episode for a second window for “Monk,” while USA Network is paying around $1 million per episode for the first-run rights from Touchstone. Such a sharing of the licensing costs could serve as another business model for the broadcast networks to program more of their summer schedules with original scripted programming.
“Certainly, doing it this way is cheaper than some reality shows, but the question is whether [scripted series] will have the same upside in the ratings as [NBC’s] `Fear Factor’ or [Fox’s] `American Idol,”’ Mr. Pedowitz said. “The only way to do [original scripted series] in summer is if it’s smartly and inexpensively done. Broadcasters have to look at their [summer] inventory and mix it up. It’s hard, but it is doable.”
Since USA Network’s two-hour debut of “Monk” July 12, the show has ranked among the top 10 programs on basic cable each week, averaging a 3.5 rating in households and 4.98 million total viewers. ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne and ABC Television Entertainment Group Chairman Lloyd Braun also broke ground with traditional cable network players in striking a two-year development deal with HBO Independent Productions.
Under the terms of the deal, HBO Independent Productions will develop and produce series programming funded by ABC and for broadcast on the network. While ABC will have first-look rights to all programming developed by HBO Independent Productions, HBO will be able to approach other networks with projects not ordered by ABC and to draw on the development fund established by the network for these projects.
ABC will provide deficit financing for pilots and series on or off ABC, possibly in partnership with HBO Independent Productions, with ABC retaining distribution rights (through Buena Vista Television) and copyrights for all programming developed through this association.
HBO Independent Productions is managed by Russell Schwartz, executive VP of creative affairs, business and planning, and is under the purview of HBO CEO Chris Albrecht.
“This is not intended to be a pipeline from HBO Original Programming to ABC,” Mr. Schwartz said. “This relationship is not about putting HBO on ABC. It is not about finding things that come to HBO that they don’t want and sending it to ABC. It will be developing projects from their inception that are intended for ABC, but if they pass on something, we can still sell the project to any other network.”
HBO Independent Productions is responsible for such broadcast network series as CBS’s “Everybody Loves Raymond” and former Fox sitcoms “Martin” and “Roc.”