MGM Banks on Alternatives to Off-Net Drama

Feb 19, 2007  •  Post A Comment

MGM’s syndication unit is looking to spice up weekend programming.

The studio’s domestic television distribution operation has cleared upcoming weekly hour “MGM Presents” in more than 50 percent of the country for a fall launch. The series will feature 13-week runs of four of the studio’s top sci-fi series, “Dead Like Me,” “Jeremiah,” “Poltergeist: The Legacy” and “The Outer Limits,” over the course of the season. In addition, the company will bring back “Masterminds,” a series chronicling the heists of some of the world’s most notorious thieves, for a sophomore run.

The idea, according to company executives, will be to provide alternative programming out of the company’s library for stations loaded with off-net dramas.

“With all of the network dramas getting sold for weekend runs, we knew that there needed to be some fresh alternatives available for stations, audiences and advertisers,” said John Bryan, MGM Domestic Television Distribution’s executive VP of broadcast strategy. “With something like the `MGM Presents’ block, we will be able to feature new marketing, promotions and built-in theme weeks with each of these series for stations.”

The studio has made headlines in recent weeks by tapping nontraditional programming from its library or from its partnership with New Line Television in an effort to open up new revenue and distribution models for the syndicator. This was exemplified recently when the company announced that it had sold off-cable series “Reno 911!” as a strip and “Chappelle’s Show” as a weekly in the country’s top three markets. Both had been hits for cable outlet Comedy Central.

This strategy has not gone unnoticed by industry observers, who note that clever distributors are finding success using alternative programming as a means to combat consolidated distributors.

“The `MGM Presents’ block presents an interesting opportunity for stations to look at product that has been successful on cable but has a limited number of episodes,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz Television. “By creating a sci-fi time period on the stations, it benefits the constituency of viewers to find similar programming throughout the year on a particular station at a particular time but in individual cycles.”

The “MGM Presents” programming wheel will include four series that each had runs on Showtime. Two of the four series have never been seen on the broadcast airwaves.

“Poltergeist: The Legacy,” which tells the story of the members of a secret society known as the Legacy and their efforts to protect humanity from dangers of the occult, previously played on Showtime and the Sci Fi Channel, as well as in syndication.

“Jeremiah” aired on “Showtime” between 2002 and 2004 and stars Luke Perry and Malcolm-Jamal Warner as survivors in a post-apocalyptic world who must begin to rebuild civilization. This marks the series’ first foray into syndication.

“Dead Like Me” will also hit broadcasters for the first time in syndication. The series originally aired on “Showtime” in first run for 29 episodes and is currently running on Sci Fi Channel, where it scored as the top non-original series in homes and with adults 18 to 49 this past season.

“The Outer Limits” aired on both Showtime and Sci Fi between 1995 and 2002 and will continue to air weekly repeats in syndication through the end of this season before being wrapped into the “MGM Presents” programming block.

Separately, “Masterminds” will return for year two with clearances on all of the Fox-owned stations.

“As a company without our own broadcast outlets, we continually need to find new and innovative ways to utilize our library,” Mr. Bryan said. “We’ve been excited about the response we have received from [“Masterminds”] and we look forward to finding more in the near future.”