Cabler digs deep for sitcom series

Nick at Nite has bought the exclusive cable rights to Paramount Domestic distribution’s “Cheers” starting in the fall of 2001 for $68.8 million, the highest price Nick has ever paid for a sitcom rerun.

The $68.8 million breaks down to a $250,000 tariff for each of the 275 “Cheers” half-hours, also a record per-episode tab for Nick At Nite, which will get the show for an unusually lengthy term of seven years.

Although Nick at Nite and Paramount are sister companies owned by Viacom Inc., Nick got “Cheers” only after a spirited two-week bidding process, with USA, FX and A&E all making offers for the series, insiders said.

Nick at Nite’s exclusivity extends only to cable. TV stations will continue to run the show well into the next decade based on pre-existing off-network syndication deals.

Ready for primetime

While not commenting on any of the deal points, Diane Robina, associate G.M. and senior VP of programming for Nick at Nite’s TV Land, said she expects to score points with fans of “Cheers” by stripping the show in primetime, not in the latenight time periods that many TV stations have relegated it to in recent years, long past many people’s bedtimes.

“Cheers” also represents a Nick at Nite strategy to schedule more contemporary sitcoms to buttress the ’60s and ’70s comedies it has specialized in, Robina said. The network now strips “Wonder Years,” an ABC hit from 1988-1993, and NBC carried “Cheers” from 1982 through 1993.

But Robina said Nick at Nite has no plans, for example, to splurge to the point of going after the second cycle of “Seinfeld,” which Columbia TriStar TV Distribution is now offering to cable networks at a premium price that figures to soar beyond the $500,000-an-episode mark. “Seinfeld” could end up on Nick at Nite, she adds, but only after it finishes its second — or even third — cycle in off-network syndication and basic cable, when the price will have dropped to a more manageable level.

“Cheers,” created by Glen Charles, Les Charles and Jim Burrows, starred Ted Danson, Shelley Long (1982-87), Kirstie Alley (1987-93), Rhea Perlman, Kelsey Grammer, Woody Harrelson, Bebe Neuwirth, Nicholas Colasanto, George Wendt and John Ratzenberger.

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