Last Call For ‘Cheers’?

Will “Cheers” be the first No. 1 series in tv history that doesn’t return for another season because the network and the production company can’t agree on renewal terms?

Reps and station sources say it could happen.

Paramount is asking NBC for $120 million in license fees to renew “Cheers” for the 1991-92 season, which would add up to more than double the previous record (the $48 million NBC pays Carsey-Werner to produce “The Cosby Show”).

Paramount insiders defended their price on the grounds that “Cheers” brings in at least $120 million in ad revenues for the network. They also insist that another season of the show would not greatly boost their syndication revenues, since there already are 221 episodes on the market.

“There’s a validity to Paramount’s claim that it would be tougher for stations in syndication to lay out such a large amount of money for another year’s worth” of 25 or so “Cheers” episodes,” says Steve Mauldin, v.p. and g.m. of KHTV Houston, which runs the show twice a day (at 6:30 and 10:30 p.m.).

Sources say that when Paramount starts the wheels turning on the syndicated renewals of “Cheers,” its strategy will be to increase the license fees that tv stations paid when Paramount first presold the series in syndication in 1984, the year before it became a top 10 series in network primetime.

But additional episodes would work against that strategy because “tv stations are strapped for cash these days, and the syndication marketplace is saturated with sitcoms,” says Jim Curtin, v.p. of programming for the HRP rep firm.

Because Paramount agreed to give stations 10 runs of each “Cheers” episode in the initial deals, some of them will be able to continue in the current cycle through as late as 1996. These deals cover the additional episodes tacked on to the show each year it picked up renewal commitments from NBC beyond the first five years. (Paramount adds a one-time-only 10% surcharge to the station’s license fee for these added “Cheers” half-hours.)

Various sources say Paramount has grossed about $287.3 million in the first cycle of off-network syndication ($1.3 an episode times the 221 half-hours already produced).

Since the show has proved a consistently high-rated Nielsen performer throughout the years, Janeen Bjork, v.p. of programming for the Seltel rep firm, says she’s recommending that all her station clients “beg, borrow or steal it, but make sure you get it back on your stations.”

Adding to the possibility that the show won’t be back next year is the conviction among Paramount insiders that the show will not end up at another network. “CBS is getting very tight with money, ‘Cheers’ doesn’t really fit ABC’s self-image, and the networks don’t like to raid each other’s shows anyway,” he said.

“Paramount is playing a power game with ‘Cheers,'” opined one studio head. “They’ll reach an agreement eventually, but the amount they’re going to get will only end up taking money away from other shows.”

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