Fox Snatches `Raymond’ From Tribune

Feb 23, 2004  •  Post A Comment

How exactly did Lachlan Murdoch and the Fox owned-and-operated stations steal off-network hit “Everybody Loves Raymond” away from the Tribune station group?
That’s the question operators throughout the syndication business have been asking since the deal was announced last week. The industry went on the spin cycle, on and off the record, about the first A-list off-net series to jump ship to another station group since “Seinfeld” did it in 1998.
No matter how or why it happened, however, it’s clear this move by Mr. Murdoch, the new chairman of Fox Television Stations, is a coup at the beginning of his tenure.
The Fox-owned TV stations bought “Everybody Loves Raymond” in eight cities, and the series will move from its Tribune stations in five of the cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. The deal will commence in March 2008 for 51/2 years. Fox markets renewing the strip are Minneapolis, Baltimore and Washington.
With no diamond-caliber off-net players on the horizon, Fox executives hedged their bets and moved in the past two weeks to secure both “Raymond” and “Seinfeld” into the next decade. The pickup of “Raymond” from distributor King World follows last week’s news (TelevisionWeek, Feb. 16) that all 19 Fox O&Os renewed Sony Pictures TV’s “Seinfeld” in the third cycle, keeping the off-net series in the group through 2011.
The moves may prove to be wise, analysts said.
“Fox is placing their bets on some of the key perennials now,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of group programming for Katz Media. “Given the lack of success for any of the networks in being able to establish a breakout hit over the last few years, it makes a lot of sense to protect and go after the devil you know.”
Some reports placed the deal’s worth at two to three times the original license fee for the first cycle of “Raymond.” If this is true, it would explain why Tribune didn’t make a deal for the show. However, multiple sources said the numbers reported in other publications are wrong, and that Fox in fact got “Raymond” for dollars on par with the first cycle.
Frank Cicha, VP of programming for the Fox station group, would not confirm figures for the show but did note that the $600,000-an-episode figures reportedly paid for the strip in top markets New York and Los Angeles were “way off.”
“This deal had to be done at an equitable level to complement what we’re already doing on the stations,” Mr. Cicha said. “The real figure is nowhere near what’s been reported. That said, I can also say we didn’t get it for free. Ultimately, I believe both sides are happy with the outcome.”
During January’s National Association of Television Program Executives convention, one Tribune station executive said the group was waiting for news of “Raymond’s” fate on CBS before making a move to pick up the second cycle. The creative forces behind the hit series have reportedly met to discuss story lines for another season. There is not yet, however, a deal for more seasons. Many analysts expect a renewal.
That hesitation by Tribune may have cost the group one of its two biggest syndicated series. A Tribune spokesperson would not comment for this piece. However, one Tribune station general manager expressed frustration at losing the show and speculated that Roger King may have lost patience with the holdup in negotiations, which gave the Fox stations an “in” for the 2008 runs. Tribune does, however, have one hot show on the way in HBO’s “Sex and the City,” which will begin in September 2005.
However, Mr. Cicha noted that even if “Raymond” does not return for next season, the group considers itself fortunate to have clinched the heavyweight sitcom. By the end of this season, nearly 200 episodes of “Raymond” will be in the can.
“That was a risk we were willing to take,” said Mr. Cicha of “Raymond’s” potential series finale this spring. “In the particular markets where we acquired the show, `Raymond’ is going to be an important player for years to come and will be a key part of our duopoly strategy.”
“Raymond” ranks third in national household ratings among off-net sitcoms, behind “Seinfeld” and “Friends,” averaging a 5.7 during the most recent week for which ratings are available, according to Nielsen. Those three series, along with Twentieth’s “The Simpsons” are considered to be the crown jewels of off-net series.
“If you’re not in with at least two of those four, you could be having a rough time in the sitcom game,” Mr. Cicha said. “If we pair `Raymond’ up with `Seinfeld,’ `Simpsons’ or even with itself, I think it’s going to matter to stations a lot.”