TBS made a run at ‘Seinfeld’

NEW YORK — Ted Turner was so gung-ho about wanting to steal the original 1997-98 episodes of “Seinfeld” away from NBC and funnel them to his TBS superstation that “he was prepared to step up and go head-to-head with all of the top bidders,” including ABC and CBS.

That’s the word from Alan Horn, chairman and CEO of Castle Rock, which owns the series. The exercise became strictly theoretical when NBC renewed “Seinfeld” late last week, but, Horn said, “Ted and the TBS executives came up with an absolutely real, big-time proposal.”

Although no one would comment on specific financial details, one insider said Turner was not wincing at a license fee of $3 million a half-hour.

Turner Broadcasting owns Castle Rock, and they’re both part of the Time Warner empire. Horn said one of TBS’ selling points was that while “Seinfeld” originals would have scored consistently better Nielsens than any other series in TBS’ history, the ratings would have wound up at best at less than a third of NBC’s typical numbers.

Syndication bonus

As a result, the firstrun episodes, were they to air on TBS, would have done even better in rerun syndication than they do now because they’d be “fresher.” Columbia TriStar is the off-network distributor of “Seinfeld.”

Other sources say Turner’s bold stab at “Seinfeld” is part of TBS and TNT’s strategy of buying higher-profile programming to ramp up the Nielsens and rack up network-level advertising revenues.

For the last year or so, Turner has bought the broadcast-premiere windows to more than 50 theatrical movies, such as “Dumb & Dumber,” “Michael,” “Space Jam,” “Absolute Power,” “The English Patient,” “Mars Attacks!,” “Fargo” and “Evita.”

TNT also plans to make aggressive bids to keep such high-rated events as 10 Sunday-night National Football League games and dozens of National Basketball Assn. playoff games.

Different strategy

Consistent with its interest in “Seinfeld,” Turner is running the numbers on the feasibility of elbowing out TV syndication for the first off-network plays of such hit sitcoms as Warner Bros.’ “The Drew Carey Show” and Carsey-Werner’s “3rd Rock From the Sun,” these sources said.

“In a situation where a producer of a hit sitcom is in a bad relationship with its network,” one source said, “Ted wants to know about it.”

If Turner had managed to get its hands on “Seinfeld,” the network already had the slogan prepared: Must See TBS.

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