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‘Reba’ The WB’s 1st Syndie Star

Jun 27, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The WB Network has made its long-running hit comedy “Reba” the first major purchase for its upcoming daily block of syndicated shows.

The purchase shows the clout The WB will have in the syndication market. It pre-empts plans by the show’s producer, Twentieth Television, for a more traditional sale to individual stations across the country. Stations that had already committed to “Reba” in markets covering about 70 percent of the U.S. will now lose out to the local affiliate of The WB.

“If you’re a WB station, you’re happy,” said Bob Cook, president and CEO of Twentieth Television. “Some stations might be disappointed. This was a difficult call for us, but we think it’s in the best interest to go in this direction.”

The purchase also reinforces The WB’s strategic goal of buying off-network rights to shows that originally launched on the network, providing a powerful afternoon promotional platform and reinforcing that brand on its affiliated stations.

“Reba” won’t be available to air until fall 2006. The new programming block, which will air between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays, launches in January 2006 (TelevisionWeek, May 30). The WB has yet to announce any other new programming. When “Reba” launches, it will be in the second hour and will double-run, said David Janollari, president of entertainment for The WB.

That time period is currently part of a block of animated shows that includes “Xiaolin Showdown,” which is in the 4 p.m. block “Reba” will occupy. Kids animation is being phased out in favor of syndicated programming that is more compatible with the network’s target audience and more in line with the 18 to 49 demo that most advertisers desire. The block will run on about 200 stations.

“Obviously it’s our No. 1 comedy,” Mr. Janollari said of “Reba,” which stars country singer Reba McEntire as a divorced real estate agent raising three kids. “It’s pretty huge in women 18 to 49, and that is the target audience for the afternoon time slots. The show is a brand, she is a brand name, and she has the hugest following in the world.”

The WB and Twentieth Television declined to discuss financial terms of the deal. TVWeek previously reported that unlike the usual syndie split of about 15 minutes per hour, in this block The WB is expected to keep eight minutes and local stations get five. Since the animated block has not been selling well, that is still expected to be a significant improvement for stations.

Given that “Reba” wasn’t slated to go off-network for another 14 months, Paul Franklin, executive VP and general sales manager of broadcast for Twentieth Television, said stations have time to find an alternative.

Twentieth plans to roll out sitcoms “Still Standing” and “Family Guy,” while Warner Bros. and Paramount also are expected to have sitcoms ready for syndication for fall 2006.

“Reba,” returning for its fifth season on The WB this fall, has been a lynchpin in the network’s strategy of building a family comedy block on Friday nights. In addition to running original episodes at 9:30 p.m. on Fridays, The WB will start the 2005-06 season with an hour of “Reba” repeats at 7 p.m. on Sundays.

Doug Gealy, president and chief operating officer of Acme Communications, which owns eight WB affiliates, said his company is “very happy … It will be a great lead-in for our sitcoms. Obviously it will give us a jump on our sitcom flow. [Now] it takes a while to catch up because the flow is not as good out of animation. Reba being a strong sitcom will jump-start our sitcoms.”

Mr. Cook welcomes the new relationship with The WB. “Everybody keeps looking for different models,” he said. “How do we maximize the revenue for programs whose costs are continuing to grow? This is an interesting, innovative model.”