Testing the ‘Limits’

Three of season's segs to be Sci-Fi pilots

NEW YORK — The Sci-Fi Channel has inserted an unusual clause in its contract with MGM to keep “Outer Limits” in production for a seventh season of 22 original hours: At least three segs will serve as backdoor pilots for potential series.

Because “Outer Limits” is an anthology series, said Bonnie Hammer, exec VP and G.M. of Sci-Fi, “it’s the perfect forum to experiment with episodes that could blossom into series.”

In each of the three, Hammer said, MGM will “pay extra attention” to the script and casting, and the budget will rise above the average $1.1 million. If one or more of these pilots spin out into series, the producers will be MGM, Alliance Atlantis and the Trilogy Entertainment Group, the companies that produce “Outer Limits.”

Replacement player

Another unusual element of the deal is that Showtime had commissioned the first six years of “Outer Limits” production and, along with MGM and its partners, decided not to renew it. So certain was the cancellation that Trilogy filmed an expensive two-hour series finale called, appropriately, “Final Appeal,” which Showtime ran earlier this month.

So, in effect, Sci-Fi rescued the series, replacing Showtime in the complicated “Outer Limits” deal, which also encompasses the bartering of each new hour to TV stations in off-Showtime syndication. Sci-Fi gets an exclusive window for the “Outer Limits” hours kicking off in March. Six months later, the episodes will make their way into TV barter syndication.

The syndie deal mandates that TV stations pay no cash license fees to the distributor, instead handing over seven minutes within each run to MGM for sale to national advertisers.

Hank Cohen, president of MGM TV Entertainment, said the studio is confident that it will be able to sign TV stations representing at least 80% of the U.S. for the seventh-season episodes.

Aud exodus

The Nielsen numbers of the syndicated episodes softened to a lowly 5 share average in 2000, with the rating dropping off from a 1.3 average in February to a 1.0 in May and a 0.8 in July.

After the syndication run, Sci-Fi gets the episodes back for multiyear, multirun windows.

The “Outer Limits” deal also includes the sale of all 49 of the original B&W “Outer Limits” episodes that ran on ABC in 1963 and become available to Sci-Fi in January 2002.

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