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Studio Exex Say Sitcom Deals May Be Bad Investments

Studio execs acknowledged at a syndication panel last week that investments in a number of high-priced deals with sitcom producers could backfire.

Appearing at a Hollywood Radio & Television Society luncheon, Randy Reiss, exec v.p. of the Walt Disney Studios, said recouping the millions invested in such deals no longer is guaranteed, even if the shows created make it into syndication. He noted that because of the widening gap between high-and low-end syndication fees, in some cases the studio may not even cover its investment in talent.

Warner Bros. syndie prez Dick Robertson added that a glut of off-network sitcoms is driving down the price per episode. The law of supply and demand, he argued, is putting “tremendous pressure on price.” He also noted that Fox Broadcasting Co. has exacerbated the problem by taking away time periods and putting additional product into the marketplace.

On a more positive note, both Robertson and Paramount syndie prez Lucie Salhany suggested that off-net sitcoms soon will fetch the same prices on cable as they do on broadcast stations.

Salhany warned, however, that syndicators would refuse to sell to cable if the residual structure changes. (Industry sources say cable residuals average 10% of the license fee, whereas off-net syndication rates go as high as 20%.)

While Reiss noted that the guilds have, on occasion, been willing to provide waivers to help out the studios, he did point out another factor in the syndication-cable equation: Cable networks have yet to find out if high-priced syndicated product works for them.

Salhany blamed multitier deals for the problems the nine new firstrun adult strips encountered last fall. With too many shows competing for too few time periods, distributors had to settle for poor slots and were unable to recoup their money, she said.

Reiss added that “too many people announced a ‘go’ when they should not have.”

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