TBS prexy hoping to make new ‘Friends’

TBS Superstation prexy Bill Burke said Monday that his cable network plans to make “a competitive bid” to snare the firstrun rights to “Friends” away from NBC when the Peacock web’s licensing deal expires in May 2000.

This comes on the heels of TBS’s attempt to grab “Seinfeld” from NBC, reportedly offering a stratospheric license fee in the $4.5 million-per-episode range to pluck the show in originals. But the comedy from Castle Rock (a Turner Entertainment division) ultimately accepted a smaller fee to remain on NBC next season.

It’s part of a new Turner strategy to pursue existing shows rather than create new comedies and dramas. TNT gave a preview of that tactic when it went after, and got, the Warner Bros. Domestic TV series “Babylon 5,” which will run new episodes on TNT beginning in January. It has previously been exclusive to the syndie market.

“Friends,” being a Warner Bros. Domestic TV series, is, like “Seinfeld,” part of the extended Time Warner-Turner family. One could argue that TBS can pay considerably more in rights fees than could a competing broadcast network, given that the money would essentially be leaving one pocket and entering another in the same pair of pants.

However, Burke said Monday that TBS will go after non-Warner affiliated shows as well. The only prerequisite is that they be high-profile. The plan would be for TBS to use the series as a loss leader that would draw considerably more viewers to the cablenet.

Indeed, if “Seinfeld” had been successfully grabbed by TBS, that network’s ratings in primetime would have been expected to virtually triple or quadruple overnight.

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