O&Os nab off-net rights to popular toon

The Fox O&Os have snapped up rerun rights for one of the most anticipated off-network offerings of the year, Fox Broadcasting Co.’s hit animated sitcom “King of the Hill.”

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but sources said the 22-station group was collectively committing in the neighborhood of $1.5 million per episode for the rerun rights to the 20th Century Fox TV-produced show, beginning in fall 2001.

Sources said “King” fetched at least $250,000 more per seg than the Fox O&O group shelled out en masse last year to snare the fall 1999 off-net rights to Carsey-Werner’s NBC comedy “3rd Rock From the Sun.” At this rate, syndie biz observers said “King of the Hill” could pull in more than $3 million per episode in license fees alone when sales to stations in the rest of the country are completed — on the low end of the syndie superstar scale set by recent hits “Home Improvement” and “Seinfeld.”

“Fox stations are the perfect environment for this show,” said Rick Jacobson, prexy of Fox’s Twentieth TV syndie arm. “When we look at the success of ‘The Simpsons’ in syndication, it’s pretty clear that ‘King of the Hill’ is going to be a long-term player, particularly with the hard-to-reach male audience.”

Jacobson noted that the sitcom-rich Fox O&Os will be able to pair “King of the Hill” reruns with “The Simpsons,” just as they air on Fox’s Sunday primetime sked.

Some grumbling

There was some grumbling among rival station groups that the Fox O&O deal was inked before they had a chance to bid on “King of the Hill.” But at the same time, the Fox O&Os were understood to have made a rich offer unlikely to be matched by another group.

Although the “King of the Hill” deal involves different divisions of the Fox empire, distrib Twentieth TV still has to prove to its profit participants that the sale to the inhouse station group was indeed the most lucrative route.

Keith Samples, the syndie biz veteran who founded Rysher Entertainment, was hired to serve as an outside consultant on Twentieth’s syndie sale of “King of the Hill” by show creators/exec producers Mike Judge (“Beavis & Butt-head”), Greg Daniels, 3 Arts Entertainment and the Endeavor talent agency.

‘Fair and attractive’

“I thought the (Fox O&O) deal was very fair and very attractive,” said Samples.

Now that most of the key top markets are taken care of, Twentieth will turn its attention to clearing the show in the remaining 60% of U.S. TV households not covered by the Fox O&O group.

Twentieth is offering the show on a Monday-to-Friday, cash-plus-barter basis, with Twentieth keeping 1-1/2 minutes of advertising time in each telecast. Distrib is not offering double runs or weekend runs, at least in the first year, but Twentieth is leaving open the option of a simultaneous cable window in the fourth year of the initial syndie cycle.

“King of the Hill,” chronicling the adventures of Hank Hill and his blue-collar Texas family, has been a bankable hit for Fox since its bow in January 1997. For the season to date, “King” ranks among the top 10 in key adult and male demographic categories.

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