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Syndie ‘Grace’ period

The Carsey-Werner Co., producer of ABC’s “Grace Under Fire,” is preparing to revive its dormant syndication wing.

Company CEO Stuart Glickman Thursday confirmed the move, saying the company intends to distribute the series in-house.

“Grace,” which will likely become available for off-net reruns in September 1998, is considered one of three big network sitcoms in the post-1995 pipeline, along with NBC’s “Frasier” and “Mad About You.”

In addition to “Grace,” industry sources say C-W is putting pressure on the newly merged Viacom-Paramount to hand it over the off-net rights to its highest-rated pair of series: “The Cosby Show”– the highest-grossing sitcom in the history of syndication — and “Roseanne.”

Rerun rights

Sources suggest Viacom would have the ability to keep both of the popular sitcoms, but that C-W might make it worthwhile for it to give up the profitable rerun rights.

“Cosby” is aging and has already taken in more than $ 700 million over several syndication cycles. “Roseanne” never proved to be the financial gold mine that “Cosby” was, but its off-net ratings are still fairly strong, and both series are likely to become evergreens.

Viacom’s fee

Under the existing setup, C-W has to pay Viacom a sizable distribution fee. If the production company could gain back the two shows, it would have a constant source of income on which to build a syndication franchise — a mistake it made in 1992 with the short-lived firstrun revival of “You Bet Your Life.”

When the much-anticipated comedy gameshow hosted by Bill Cosby quickly died, the company had no other source of syndication income, so it put the unit in mothballs and its president, Bob Jacobs, exited.

Glickman wouldn’t comment on potential candidates to head the newly revamped operation.

Jacobs is believed to be out of the running, but several other names being mentioned for the opening are Columbia TriStar TV Distribution sales head Ed Wilson, Twentieth TV sales head Ken Solomon and former Buena Vista TV sales head Mort Marcus. All three have been in the running at one time or another for the vacant BVTV president’s post.

Former Viacom off-net head Joe Zaleski, who is a consultant on “Roseanne” and one of the execs who masterminded the successful “Cosby” off-net sales plan, may also be considered.

To attract strong candidates, however, syndication community sources say C-W will have to convince top-flight talent that it is now fully committed to the business given its past track record.

Whoever gets the job will likely get paid handsomely to sell “Grace,” which is ranked No. 5 among all primetime programs this season, with an 18.0 rating/27 share through March 20.

Appearing in the coveted Wednesday slot following the top-rated “Home Improvement,””Grace” retains a huge percentage of its lead-in, particularly in the key female demographic groups.

But the true syndie litmus test for the show won’t likely come until the network tries to build a night around “Grace” in a season or two. Station execs generally want to see how a show performs on its own before they dig too deeply into their wallets.

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