Sci-Fi picks up U TV’s ‘Sliders’

In a move that could serve as a precursor to Universal’s future as a cable programmer, the Sci-Fi Channel has picked up the Universal TV series “Sliders” with a 22-episode order that will keep the sci-fi series running for a fourth season of originals after being canceled by Fox this spring.

Sci-Fi also acquired the rights to all 48 previously-produced “Sliders” hours at a rate “competitive with what we paid for some of the other offnet shows we acquired for the networks (USA Network and Sci-Fi Channel),” said USA Networks entertainment prexy Rod Perth by telephone from Australia, where he is visiting the set of the USA miniseries “Moby Dick.”

Some have already speculated that having “Sliders” go to Sci-Fi provides proof that Universal, which currently shares ownership of USA Networks with Viacom, will wind up buying out Viacom’s 50% stake, pending a judge’s decision on the networks’ fate.

Indeed, the Universal/USA synergy in the “Sliders” deal would appear almost too perfect to be coincidental. It makes sense that the arrangement portends further original series production that could transform USA and Sci-Fi into an ad hoc Universal programming network.

However, Perth discounted that scenario, noting that the deal’s timing is “absolutely coincidental. There was a certain cooperative nature to it, sure, but we can not read this as a plant by Universal. Paramount and Viacom still own 50% of the networks, and they control 50% of the approval. This was a very clean deal.”

Indeed, added Perth, Sci-Fi “did not” make anything resembling a sweetheart deal for “Sliders,” which stars Jerry O’Connell as the head of a young team of explorers who “slide” through parallel dimensions of Earth using a timer that opens a sliding vortex.

It would be disingenuous, however, to suggest that Sci-Fi Channel does not have an advantage in competing for Universal product by being part owned by Universal, said Perth.

“What this deal represents is a very significant and bold statement on the part of the Sci-Fi Channel,” Perth added.

It is certainly an expensive statement. “Slider” has a budget in the $1.4 million to $1.5 million-per-episode range, a hefty pricetag even by network standards. It’s expected that the budget will be trimmed to around the $1 million-per mark.

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