Sci Fi, TNN may boldly go for high rate

NEW YORK — Talk about boldly going where no one has gone before: Paramount Television has informed cable networks that it’s ready to sell the three “Star Trek” series from the 1980s and ’90s — “The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager” — but the winning bidder will have to pay the record license fee of $364 million.

Paramount declined comment, but cable sources say the studio believes that Barry Diller’s Sci Fi Channel and Sumner Redstone’s TNN are both so eager to latch on to the “Star Trek” franchise, $364 million is a realistic marketplace figure. TNT, Fox Family, Odyssey Channel and FX would also love to get the three “Trek” series, but they’d be unlikely to stay in the auction if the prices soar as high as Par is demanding.

The way the deal breaks down, the cable network buying the package would have to pony up a minimum of $1 million an episode for the 179 hours of “Next Generation,” which would end up as a record for rerun hours, beating the previous mark set by Warner Bros. Cable when it sold “ER” to its sister company TNT.

“Next Generation,” which is now playing in rerun syndication after going out of production as a firstrun series in 1994, would become available for five-a-week play to cable on Jan. 1, 2002.

Long-term deals

Paramount’s pricetag on “Deep Space Nine” is $700,000 an episode for the 124 hours the series racked up during its incarnation as a firstrun syndicated hour from January 1993 to August 1999. “Deep Space Nine” is now playing in most markets throughout the country in reruns as part of long-term deals that don’t expire until March 2004. So a cable network would be able to start stripping these reruns in April 2004.

Finally, “Voyager,” the only one of the three to originate not in syndication but on a broadcast network — UPN — is also carrying a license fee of $700,000 an episode for about 142 hours. “Voyager” is now wrapping up its seventh and final season on UPN, and TV stations began simultaneously stripping the reruns in fall 1999. These syndication contracts run through the third quarter of 2006, at which time the cable network would take title to “Voyager.”

Paramount is also planning to insist on the option of selling two weekend runs of each of the “Star Trek” series to TV stations at the same time that the episodes are playing every weekday on the cable network. If the cabler insists on exclusivity, Paramount will jack up the license fee to make up for the syndication revenues it would be walking away from.

Sci Fi highly logical

The Sci Fi Channel is the logical home for the “Star Trek” franchise because the network has scored solid numbers with the original “Trek” series starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, which ran on NBC from 1966 to ’69. Sci Fi also harvests big Nielsens every time it runs one of the theatrical-movie spinoffs of the series.

But TNN, the other expected high-roller, is a sister company of Paramount; both are part of the Viacom empire. TNN has never paid anywhere near the prices Par is asking for the “Star Trek” series, but the network has announced that it wants to transform itself from a country-oriented channel to a general-entertainment network.

TNN also has the best year-round promotional platform on cable, the weekly two-hour “Raw Is War” spectacle from the World Wrestling Federation, which right now is going to waste because the network has just begun to seek out scripted action series of appeal to a young-adult audience.

The “Star Trek” series “would be a natural for Sci Fi because the channel has revitalized the original series,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz Television, the TV-station rep firm. “But the ‘Star Trek’ franchise would put TNN on the map in a major way.”

Par has also told potential cable buyers that it has another “Next Generation” theatrical movie starring Patrick Stewart on the drawing boards, which will keep the franchise before the mass audience and help to cross-promote the series.

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