If Warner Bros. can’t get Tribune and Fox to buy top-rated Two and a Half Men, the syndicator may opt for simultaneous run on cable.
Warner Bros. has been trying for some time now to sell CBS’s Two and a Half Men to TV stations for a fall 2007 launch.
The show, starring Charlie Sheen, was expected to be the next big off-net sitcom, but Warner Bros. is running into a problem. Neither Fox nor Tribune—the two station groups that rely most heavily on syndicated sitcoms and control New York, Los Angeles and Chicago—is willing to pony up for it. While they are interested, syndie insiders say neither wants to bust the bank to acquire the show.
Although the show’s ratings tell one story—Two and a Half Men is TV’s top-rated sitcom, 16th-highest rated among viewers and the 17th among adults 18-49—the broadcasters know that it’s unlikely to be the next Friends, Seinfeld or Everybody Loves Raymond.
“The only reason we are having this conversation is because Two and a Half Men isn’t an A-level show,” says one syndication executive. “It’s a B or a B-plus show that has gone up a level because of the [scarce] environment.”
If Tribune and Fox take a pass, Warner Bros. will probably have to take the show to cable—TBS, FX or USA. And that means broadcasters will lose exclusivity, and they won’t know who to blame—Warner Bros. or Tribune/Fox.
“Because of this phenomenon, we are probably going to be weaned off the sitcom business and go to more first-run,” says John Tupper, president of Prime Cities Broadcasting Inc., and a former president of the Fox affiliates’ board of directors.
Many stations are willing to pay a premium for exclusivity—if they get a chance. Buena Vista got higher prices on ABC’s According to Jim because it offered stations a three-year window of exclusivity before the show hits cable. The show launches in broadcast syndication this fall.
“That arrangement significantly helped with the placement of that show,” says Tupper.
“For a program such as [Two and a Half Men] that’s perceived as blue-chip, it would be foolish for [Warner Bros.] not to pursue broadcast as the initial syndication deal with cable as a component that comes later,” says Bill Carroll, vice president of programming for Katz Television. “If Warner’s makes a concurrent cable and broadcast deal, then you are sending a signal to broadcasters that blue-chip properties are going to go to cable for the highest bid in the foreseeable future. I don’t know if anyone wants to make that assertion today.”
But, of course, others would say that Warner would be foolish not to get as much as it can from Two and a Half Men, however it can. True enough, but let’s hope Warner sees a healthy broadcasting business as being in its best long-term interest and tries to give broadcasters some measure of exclusivity on all its off-network offerings.
“The most important issue for us right now is trying to maintain some exclusivity of our programming,” Tupper says. “The syndicators have diluted our exclusivity by having the same programming running concurrently on cable platforms. [The networks] are offering the same programming online the same day or a day later. All of that is going to dilute the stations’ exclusivity in the eye of the beholder.”