HBO Won’t ‘Curb’ Sales Enthusiasm

Feb 26, 2007  •  Post A Comment

HBO’s critical darling “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is heading for syndication, joining a small but growing roster of off-network and off-cable television series targeting a 2008 launch.

“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” featuring comedian Larry David, probably will be presented to stations this summer, sources familiar with HBO’s plans said. There are 50 episodes of the show in the can, plus the current season and another season in the works, which could boost the total number of episodes to more than 70.

That number is low for syndication sales but not unprecedented, although typically 100 or more episodes are sold. The rush to market signals how hungry television stations are for syndicated fare to plug programming holes.

The lack of series available for 2008 was a direct result of a boom in unscripted and drama programs on the prime-time networks at the beginning of the decade that all but dried up the traditional sitcom pipelines.

“Curb Your Enthusiasm” joins Debmar-Mercury’s “House of Payne” (which will premiere first on TBS later this year) as well as Buena Vista’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” among series poised for a broadcast syndication launch in fall 2008.

The 2009 season promises a bigger supply of sitcoms for syndication, with NBC Universal’s “The Office” and Twentieth Television’s “My Name Is Earl” both expected to enter the market.

To compensate for the lack of fresh product this year and next, syndicators have turned to nontraditional programming options to fill the void. This fall alone, NBC Universal will unveil off-network runs of procedural drama “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” as a Monday-through-Friday show, marking a shift from the traditional sitcoms in those time slots. MGM will broadcast the Comedy Central sitcom “Reno 911!” in syndication next season, while Litton Entertainment brings off-syndication runs of “Baywatch” back to the mix.

Once syndicators start to use new sources of programming, they may develop a taste for it, an analyst said.

“The fact that the procedural dramas have gone to cable, and the scarcity of sitcoms on broadcast that have reached the magic number of 100 episodes, has forced syndicators to look elsewhere to find where the next opportunities are,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz Media Group. “Cable, international and broadcast reality have all become potential avenues that they can explore as a result of this.”

Growing acceptance of syndicated fare from new sources creates a new revenue stream for cable networks such as Time Warner’s HBO. In the fourth quarter of 2006, content sales at the company’s cable networks grew 76 percent, largely because HBO sold “The Sopranos” to A&E, Time Warner reported in January.

People familiar with the matter said “Curb Your Enthusiasm” probably will be sold on a cash-plus-barter basis, where stations pay HBO money upfront, plus a share of the ad time on the program. Any deals with stations probably will be for only two- or three-year runs, given the relatively small number of episodes available.

HBO declined comment on syndication plans for “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Hanging on Tribune

Plans for selling the series may be on hold until the fate of one potential customer, Tribune Co., is determined. That company, which owns 23 TV stations, is considering bids on its assets.

To sell the show, HBO will turn to the television distribution arm of parent company AOL Time Warner. Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution previously sold HBO’s “Sex and the City” nationally.

Scott Carlin, hired as HBO’s president of program distribution to handle syndication opportunities for the premium cable channel, has scored prime deals for the channel’s “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under.” “The Sopranos” ended up running on A&E while “Six Feet Under” landed at Bravo. In those cases, HBO executed the deals independently, using its own staff to complete the transactions.

Selling to broadcast stations, however, is a different ballgame because it requires contacts in more than 200 television markets to achieve nationwide clearance for a show. That’s a far cry from selling a series to a single cable channel.