Skeins mull exits for greener pastures

With just two weeks left before the TV biz breaks camp and heads to New York for the fall upfront presentations, the fates of “Dharma & Greg” and “JAG” are still far from resolved.

And in a year when “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” jumped networks over economic issues, there’s a possibility that both hit series may pack their bags as well.

Renegotiations for “JAG” aren’t as simple as one-two-synergy. Although it’s more than likely that Viacom sibs CBS and Paramount Network TV will come to a deal, the two sides are still far apart over the show’s pricetag, and tensions had escalated by the end of last week. CBS’ exclusive negotiating window for the military drama expires today.

The Eye currently pays between $1.2 million and $1.3 million for “JAG,” now in its fifth season. Par is believed to be asking for a fee in the mid- to upper-$2 million range, while CBS is said to be offering about $1 million less than that.

Enter the show’s profit participants. While not a blockbuster hit, “JAG” pulls decent numbers on Tuesday nights for the Eye. And with lower-rated series like “Buffy” fetching strong licensing coin, Par is well aware that “JAG’s” profit holders expect the studio to locate the best deal possible regardless of family ties.

The unusual “JAG” renegotiations are a byproduct of the past decade’s media merger frenzy. CBS originally picked up “JAG” after NBC canceled the skein in 1996, long before the Eye was acquired by Viacom.

Back then, Par and CBS weren’t corporate cousins, so the show’s participants had no qualms and both sides entered into a standard 4-1/2 year deal. This time around, things are a little more sticky. Just ask the execs from “Home Improvement” producer Wind Dancer.

The parallels are uncanny: ABC originally ordered “Home Improvement” when the Alphabet web was still owned by Capital Cities. By the time the Tim Allen laffer came up for renewal, however, Disney had bought the network and made sure the hit sitcom stayed put.

Wind Dancer sued Disney/ABC on the grounds that Disney didn’t actively shop “Home Improvement” around to get the best deal possible. Both sides settled out of court.

In the anything-can-happen TV landscape, Paramount may now have to shop “JAG” to prospective buyers other than its own sister company. And in an even stranger twist of fate, NBC could conceivably bid for –and steal back — the show it once dismissed.

Meanwhile, ABC and 20th Century Fox TV have been locked in a “Dharma” tug-of-war for some time now; studio has now solicited offers from two other major nets, although it’s unclear whether those are competitive bids. Both sides remain far apart over the show’s license fee, which currently hovers just north of $900,000.

Twentieth believes the show is worth much more, while ABC notes that the laffer has taken a beating in the ratings this season.

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