Relaxed Rules Help ‘Mad’

Rich Frank must be smiling. The former senior Disney exec, who now heads up Comcast’s recently formed programming arm C3, fought for years to remove the primetime access rule that prohibited network affiliates in top-50 markets from carrying off-network fare in the hour before primetime. Now the rule is gone, and the unfettered marketplace is paying off for studios and affils.

Last week, NBC affiliate KSL Salt Lake City became the second network affil to buy an off-network show for prime access when it acquired “Mad About You” from Columbia TriStar TV Distribution.

The station said it will drop a half-hour of local news and run “Mad” at 6:30 p.m.

Two weeks ago, NBC affiliate KRON San Francisco spent big bucks to acquire “Frasier,” and plans to run it in access.

This is good news for syndicators, who now have new bidders in the top-50 markets. But some indie operators are making their feelings known that they fear being shut out by big-spending network affiliates.

CTTD also sold “Mad About You” to Viacom-owned NBC affiliate WVTT Hartford, a top-25 market.

WVIT has not announced a timeslot for the show. Currently, the station carries Paramount’s “Entertainment Tonight” and “Hard Copy” in the 7 p.m.-8 p.m. hour. WVIT might carry the show in early fringe, where it currently has CTTD’s “Married… With Children” and Paramount’s “Cheers.” Late fringe is out, since the station already has “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”

But along with the ramifications of the removal of the primetime access rule, stations are also dealing with a possible glut of sitcom product. Besides “Mad About You” and “Frasier,” other shows on the market include Carsey-Werner’s “Grace Under Fire” and Warner Bros.’ “Hangin with Mr. Cooper” and “Living Single.” Buena Vista also is readying the rollout of “Boy Meets World,” and Warner Bros.’ “Friends” is looming in the distance.

Stations seem to be giving syndicators stronger commitments for time periods, according to CTTD president Barry Thurston.

Thurston said more than half of the clearances are with guaranteed time periods, and virtually all of those will be in prime access. Also, roughly half of the stations are agreeing to double-run the series, which will increase CTTD’s barter ad revenue for the show, skedded to premiere in fall 1996.

“This is an advantage to us,” Thurston said, adding that “Seinfeld” wasn’t sold as a double-run. Still, the early success of “Seinfeld” in syndication is one factor that is driving interest in “Mad About You,” Thurston said.

Other stations that have bought “Mad” include indie KTVK Phoenix; River City Broadcasting’s Fox affiliate KABB San Antonio, Texas, and its UPN affiliate WITV Indianapolis; Fox affiliates KFOX El Paso, Texas, and WMSN Madison, Wis.; and ABC affiliate KEYT Santa Barbara.

CTTD has already cleared the show in New York through Fox-owned WNYW and Chicago on Tribune-owned WGN. CTTD is still in negotiations with stations in Los Angeles.

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