Pact may be announced Wednesday

NEW YORK — NBC is close to hammering out a landmark deal with Discovery Communications to lease its Saturday morning TV slot for between $5 million and $10 million per season.

Neither company would discuss the deal, but sources close to the talks said a deal may be announced as early as today.

In essence, the block, currently inhabited by NBC’s three-hour teen-oriented “TNBC,” would be rented to Discovery Kids. Nickelodeon, Warner Bros., DIC Entertainment, Sony, 4 Kids Entertainment and Nelvana all had expressed interest in taking over the slot, which had been home to hits such as “Saved by the Bell.”

Fox also has been meeting with kidvid producers about leasing its Fox Kids four-hour Saturday morning block and could be nearing a deal.

“We’re close to the final stages of negotiation. To talk about it at this point would be premature,” said a Fox spokesman, who declined to specify if there was a front-runner.

A soft ad marketplace and increased competition has recently made the children’s TV biz far less desirable than it used to be (unless you’re a full-time kids outlet like Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network).

Confronted with the tough marketplace, nets increasingly are looking for synergistic platforms. Cartoon Network jointly sells ad time and cross-promotes programs with corporate partner Kids’ WB. Similarly, by partnering with corporate sibling Nickelodeon and creating a block of “Nick Jr.” programming, CBS was able to turn a profit on its previously money-losing Saturday morning sked.

Discovery Kids, which airs on Discovery Channel Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon, consists primarily of adventure-themed reality shows.

The end of “TNBC” will mark the second Saturday morning retreat for NBC. The net got out of the kids biz in 1992, when it ditched cartoons in favor of “Saturday Today” and the teen block.

(Michael Schneider in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)

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