A&E’s ‘Sopranos’ on Ice Until 2007

Jan 9, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Though its high-priced rights to rerun episodes of “The Sopranos” begin in the fall, A&E plans to wait until January 2007 to launch the HBO hit.

The basic cable channel’s off-network launch of “The Sopranos” will coincide with HBO’s televising of a mini-season-perhaps the final season-of the award-winning show.

After A&E bought the show for a record $2.5 million an episode last February, series creator David Chase agreed to make a mini-season of eight more episodes of the show for the pay channel. Season six of “The Sopranos” on HBO is scheduled to premiere in March.

With the show appearing on both HBO and A&E, the two networks may decide to engage in some joint marketing efforts, network executives said.

When A&E acquired “The Sopranos,” the industrywide assumption was that the network would launch the show in the fall, when the window opened on the deal. But Bob DeBitetto, general manager of A&E, said it was never the network’s plan to debut Tony and his pals in September or October.

“There are a lot of factors, some external, some internal, that pointed to January being the strongest platform for ‘The Sopranos,'” Mr. DeBitetto said.

In the fall the show would face competition from the broadcast networks’ new season and from major sports events, he said. “More men are available for the most part in January,” he added.

That HBO will also be promoting “The Sopranos” could help promote the show on A&E. “Maybe there’s a win-win there,” Mr. DeBitetto said. “It’s an important show to both of us.”

A&E will launch repeats of “CSI: Miami” in prime time as a strip in the fall, and Mr. DeBitetto wants to give it a proper launch before turning attention to “The Sopranos.”

“We want to nurture ‘CSI,’ build a time period and a habit and use a strong and rooted ‘CSI’ as a platform from which we can launch ‘The Sopranos.’ A one-two punch like that has a lot to recommend it,” he said.

The network, which now programs each of its nights thematically, plans to strip “CSI: Miami” at 8 p.m. (ET) as an anchor for all of its prime-time schedule.

“The Sopranos,” on the other hand, will be scheduled vertically. Mr. DeBitetto said it’s likely that, at least on Wednesday, the network will run two episodes of the show back to back. (There may be a second night of “Sopranos” as well.) Since the network wants to do the minimum editing to meet standards and practices guidelines, those two shows could run as long as 2½ hours, including commercials.

Another show will be cut down so that a new program can start at midnight, he said.

Mr. DeBitetto said it was unclear how many commercial breaks will be slotted within “Sopranos” blocks. A&E ad sales executives have been doing presentations on “The Sopranos” for about a month and “the inventory will be a function of what the marketplace says to us, so we won’t know that for a while,” he said.

The episodes will run sequentially, so viewers will be able to follow each season’s story arcs, he said.

When Mr. Chase opted to make more episodes of “The Sopranos,” A&E acquired those as well under the terms of its deal with HBO. They were expensive, but worth it, Mr. DeBitetto said.

“It changed the deal only for the better. We’ve got more ‘Sopranos’ episodes in our inventory and that gives us more flexibility,” he said. “It’s a good thing for us.”