The glutted sitcom market and a poor station reception has driven MCA TV to sell “Major Dad” to the USA Network for a cable-record sum of nearly $ 600,000 per episode, making it the first major off-net comedy series to go directly to cable.

The exclusive sale of the four-season-old show to USA, which is co-owned by MCA and Paramount, has been expected for some time since it was the only fall ‘ 93 sitcom not being sold in syndication.

USA’s price for “Major Dad” more than doubles the previous sitcom record set in August 1990 by Columbia Pictures Television Distribution’s “My Two Dads,” which compiled 60 episodes as a marginal performer on NBC.

For that series, USA ponied up about $ 250,000 an episode for as many as 15 runs over a three-year period.

The “Major Dad” license fee also exceeds the record USA-MCA deal for an off-net hour series, which was set in October 1988 when the cabler paid $ 500, 000-per-episode under a six-year deal for “Murder, She Wrote.”

Analysts had speculated that it could take up to $ 750,000 per episode for a cabler to secure the rights to a major, long-running sitcom. By the time “Major Dad” begins its cable run, MCA will have stockpiled 96 episodes

MCA had attempted to launch the series in off-net syndication on a straight cash basis, but stations reportedly balked at the distrib’s asking price. In Los Angeles, where license fees are normally the highest of any market because of the larger number of indies, the syndicator was seeking between $ 100,000-$ 125, 000 per episode.

With the poor economic climate and a slew of young-skewing sitcoms coming into the fold over the next few years, the distrib opted to take the show to USA , where the money will essentially go from one pocket into another.

USA, needing a companion to “Major Dad,” is also expected to make a bid for Paramount’s “Wings.” Insiders said the cable web would pay roughly the same price for both series.

The Par sitcom, however, will not be available until fall ’94, which will likely force USA to double run “Dad” during its first season.

Although details about the length of the “Dad” deal were unavailable, it is expected to extend beyond three years. There appears to be virtually no chance of the sitcom making it into the broadcast arena after a lengthy cable run.

Neither “Dad” nor “Wings” has sparked much interest with stations. Indies desire sitcoms that have teen or kid appeal because that is the primary viewing audience during the 5-7 p.m. early fringe hours.

According to demo figures provided by CBS, “Dad” primarily appeals to men and women over 50, while “Wings” lacks teen appeal.

Until now, “Dad” had been a strong household ratings performer as part of CBS’ powerhouse Monday night lineup.

The web moved the series to Fridays to strengthen its sked on that night this season, causing the show’s ratings to slide.

“Dad” now ranks 52nd out of 100 prime time programs with a 10.7 rating/20 share, which is considered strong for CBS on Fridays.

In 1991-92, “Dad” ranked ninth with a 16.8/25, up from its 22nd-place finish in 1990-91.

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