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USA NET PAY LOTS OF CLAMS FOR ‘BAYWATCH’

The USA network has bought the reruns of All American TV’s “Baywatch” for a price that could end up in the $40 million range.

The tariff hinges on whether “Baywatch” continues in firstrun production for the 1996-97 syndication season – the show already has a guaranteed commitment for 1995-96, its sixth full year. A seventh season would swell the total number of “Baywatch” hours to 154, which, multiplied by the $250,000-an-episode price, factors out to $38.5 million.

Spokesmen for USA and All American would say only that they’re in discussions. But reliable sources say USA has signed a three-year deal and will start stripping “Baywatch” reruns in the fall of 1997.

While “Baywatch” continues as a weekly hour in firstrun syndication, its reruns begin their life as a syndicated strip this fall, with stations paying cash and also surrendering three commercial minutes in each hour to All American. One source says USA will have to share “Baywatch” reruns with syndication for the first year of its three-year agreement – the 1997-98 season. For the final two years, USA gets the reruns exclusively.

Various sources say other cable networks showed some interest in “Baywatch,” such as TBS, FX and E! Entertainment TV, but they all balked at the price tag.

“Baywatch” generated lots of interest among cable networks because it’s one of the few available off-network hours not owned by a company with an inhouse cable outlet. Last month, for example, 20th Century Fox TV presold “NYPD Blue” to its FX cable network, despite strong interest from USA, Lifetime and A& E, cable networks with triple FX’s subscriber count. The industry also expects reruns of another 20th series, “Picket Fences,” to end up on FX.

And one insider says Paramount walked away from a strapping offer of $16 million from TBS and the Tribune-owned TV stations for the reruns of the 80 hours of the original “Star Trek.” Instead, Paramount will funnel the series to the Sci-Fi Channel, which will begin stripping it in the fall of 1998. (Paramount is half-owner of Sci-Fi, with MCA/Universal.)

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