Top markets bid on syndie ‘Home’

Stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco Tuesday submitted non-binding bids for off-net episodes of Buena Vista Television’s hit sitcom “Home Improvement.”

The Disney syndie unit reportedly set minimum per-episode asking prices for the cash-plus-barter show of $ 235,000 in Los Angeles, $ 210,000 in New York and $ 100,000 in Chicago — the nation’s top three TV markets.

Although New York is the biggest TV market, stations in L.A. generally have to dish out more because there are four VHF independent stations here, as opposed to only three indies in Gotham.

The Chris-Craft/United and Tribune groups are considered the frontrunners for the rights to the sitcom, based on their pattern of aggressive bidding for big off-net comedies. The Fox O&Os may also be prepared to ante up.

But sources say some major market O&Os are also bidding in the hope the Prime Time Access Rule is lifted by the time the series makes its syndie bow in 1995.

PTAR prohibits stations in the top-50 markets from airing off-net shows in access. Disney has the most outspoken of the major Hollywood studios in lobbying for an end to the PTAR restrictions.

BVTV prez Bob Jacquemin declined to comment on the bidding Tuesday, but it is believed all parties were still in the running. All prices and terms will undoubtedly be open to negotiation.

One ironic twist to the “Home Improvement” talks is that Disney’s stand-alone L.A. indie KCAL-TV has taken itself out of the running.

KCAL general manager David Woodcock called it a “tough decision,” but noted the show would not dovetail with the overall programming direction of the station.

“In my judgment, a show like this would be better maximized when you have compatible sitcoms to put around it,” he said. “We’re taking more of a news and magazine route, so this would be a little out of sync with what we are doing.”

Beyond the hefty cash sums it’s seeking, BVTV wants to carve out one minute of national advertising time during the first four years of “Home Improvement.” The barter reportedly would apply to six episodes per week during the first two years of the deal and five episodes a week in the second two years.

“Home Improvement” is the first major sitcom in recent memory being sold on a per-episode basis. The trend has been to license major comedy hits such as “The Cosby Show,””Who’s the Boss?””Roseanne” and “Married … With Children” on a weekly basis.

Based on the per-episode price, “Improvement” could still lag behind the all-time off-net grosser, “Cosby.” That show is believed to have garnered more than $ 300,000 per episode in the L.A. market.

The bidding process that concluded Tuesday is seen as only the first step in a lengthy process by BVTV to cash in on the show.

Some stations, such as powerful Bay Area Fox affil KTVU, refused to take part in the bidding but still expect to become a player for the show.

KTVU general manager Kevin O’Brien said he has not gotten into syndie bidding wars since Col came along with “Who’s the Boss?”

Many major broadcasters, especially those still suffering from payment problems following the downturn in the economy, are shying away from bidding wars because the process is too costly.

“There is no show that is that indispensable … for any station,” O’Brien said.

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