‘Erin’ will fly with Peacock

NBC outbids all, also gets 'Skulls,' 'Snow,' 'Money'

NBC has snared the broadcast-network rights to Universal’s “Erin Brockovich,” emerging the victor after an intense bidding war that fetched offers from ABC, CBS, Fox, Turner and USA.

“Brockovich,” starring Julia Roberts, will get three runs on NBC over three years, starting in November 2002. Universal and NBC declined to comment on the deal, but sources said NBC came away with the prize by making one key concession: It agreed to buy a number of additional Universal titles with which some of the other net were unwilling to saddle themselves.

These extra titles include such modest box office performers as “The Skulls,” “Snow Falling on Cedars” and the just-opened Paul Newman movie “Where the Money Is.”

NBC was willing to buy in bulk, one source said, because it may carve out a second movie night — on Saturday — for the 2000-01 season. The Peacock already sets aside Sunday night for movies, and it has signed a deal to carry 12 Saturday night games of the new XFL football league starting in February 2001. NBC programmers are pondering whether it would make sense to put series on Saturday from September to February and then have to shelve them for the 12 weeks of the XFL.

Even by agreeing to pick up a batch of extra Universal titles, NBC will still pay through both nostrils for “Brockovich,” which on Tuesday became the first pic of 2000 to cross $100 million, doing so in 33 days. It’s the top-grossing pic of the year to date and shows very few signs of slowing down. The license fee is determined by the size of the domestic box office: If “Brockovich” ends up grossing $150 million in U.S. theaters, NBC will end up paying about $22.5 million for its three runs.

After “Brockovich” finishes its three-year license term on NBC, sources say Universal will be able to sell it to another network, either broadcast or cable, for two years. Then, the movie goes back to John Malone’s Starz!, which has the exclusive pay TV rights to “Brockovich” as part of an output deal with Universal.

Pic is Roberts’ third straight release to hit the century mark at the box office and the eighth of her career. It enjoyed three straight weekends as the nation’s top-grossing film, including a $28.1 million debut.

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