The station group’s deals for Two and a Half Men and Family Guy should allow it to strengthen schedules without creating more financial stress for the troubled parent company.
With unhappy Chandlers throwing tantrums in the board room, Tribune chief Dennis FitzSimons needs good news. And he got some from the TV station group.
In the past few weeks, the group landed Warner Bros. Two and a Half Men and Twentieth’s Family Guy at turn-back-the-clock prices that should strengthen the stations’ schedules.
“What we’ve been successful in doing with these two acquisitions ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦ is buying what we think are the two best [sitcoms] left out there for 2007 and beyond. Hopefully, that will give us an advantage in being able to freshen our lineup with new products,ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â says Marc Schacher, Tribune’s vice president of programming.
“Tribune made aggressive and smart purchases,ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â says Garnett Losak, vice president and director of programming at Petry Media Corp. “It appears they had a real strategy here.ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â
Neither show is expected to turn in blockbuster numbers once they start their off-net runs, but, if you’re Tribune and you don’t want to add more news and you don’t want to start producing all your own shows, they make a lot of sense.
“The sitcom business has been a very successful business for us for a long time,ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Schacher says. “As much as it’s changing and the supply is more limited than it has been in the past, it’s never something we saw ourselves totally exiting.ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â
Tribune benefited from the fact that while the Fox stations were somewhat interested in Two and a Half Men, it wasn’t willing to break the bank for the Charlie Sheen show.
Neither Warner Bros. nor Tribune would talk prices. But, without Fox in the bidding, syndication executives and other broadcasters say there’s no way Tribune paid more than $600,000 an episode. That’s a far cry from the $1 million per episode that Tribune paid Warner Bros. a decade ago for just five large markets.
Warner Bros. had hoped to reap around $3 million per episode for Two and a Half Men from all broadcasting and cable sales. But with Tribune coming in low and cable networks expressing only lukewarm interest so far, $3 million per episode now seems overly optimistic.
Tribune’s decision to also snag Family Guy was a surprise. Conventional wisdom had the show going to Fox—from one News Corp. unit to another. The Fox stations already have syndication’s only wildly successful animated hit, The Simpsons. Family Guy seemed like the perfect companion.
“Tribune picked that show up because it was just a good deal,ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â says one analyst. “It’s like when you walk into a store and you see a big sign that says sale. And considering their difficult financial situation, the only thing that would motivate them at this point is that the show was a bargain.ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â
Again, the principals would not discuss price, but syndication sources believe the per-episode number was less than $500,000 and likely in the $200,000-$300,000 range.
Another indication that Tribune got a good deal is that it’s only locked in for four years, as opposed to the show’s entire run, which is standard operating procedure in syndication. For example, when stations bought Friends, they agreed to keep paying license fees until the show went off the air. So, when the Friends cast and crew decided to go one more year, its 11th, stations had to pony up for one more season than they had expected.
With stations getting out of the off-net business, it’s questionable whether there will ever be a Friends-like bidding frenzy for a sitcom again. There’s nothing in the pipeline like it now. But buyers and analysts say the right show still will demand big bucks: “There’s always a market for a hit sitcom,ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â says Losak. “That’s a very profitable business.ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â