Co. extends syndie rights, two-a-day runs

Tribune is keeping its “Friends.”

Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution is on the cusp of finalizing a deal to air the second syndication cycle of “Friends” on the majority of the Tribune Broadcasting TV stations.

As part of the deal, Tribune, the station group that currently has the rights to air the show’s first syndication cycle, will get an extension on its right to run “Friends” twice daily in its first syndie cycle. The station group had a deal to double-pump the show for its first three years in syndication; that deal was to expire at the end of this week.

The double-run extension is good for Trib stations in Sacramento and San Diego, although those stations will not be getting the show in the second cycle. “Friends” was sold to other stations in those markets before the group deal was done.

Without Sacramento and San Diego, the Trib stations on board for cycle two will reach more than a third of the country.

The sitcom will be shared by broadcast and cable outlets for the first time in its off-net run when cable net TBS begins airing the series daily Oct. 1.

The license fee that Trib and WBDTD agreed upon for the second cycle was not available. However, sources said the fee was below that paid for the first cycle. Cycle one cost Tribune in the neighborhood of $1.5 million per episode, sources said.

Deal is significant on many levels. WBDTD prexy Dick Robertson and his staff have been pursuing second-cycle deals in the face of a struggling economy and ad market for many months.

Industryites have watched closely the sales process since April, when Robertson told Variety he expected to have deals wrapped up across the country by midsummer. Those deals, he predicted, likely would mean “Friends” would break “Seinfeld’s” record as the top-grossing sitcom in syndication.

“We think ‘Friends’ will do as well or better in its second cycle than ‘Seinfeld’ did in its second cycle,” Robertson said in April. “If we sold it for the same as what we got for cycle one, we would beat ‘Seinfeld.'”

Insiders say the Trib renewal means it’s not likely “Friends” can top “Seinfeld.”

Interestingly, while “Seinfeld” is distribbed by Warner rival Columbia TriStar TV Distribution, the show is owned by WBDTD parent Warner Bros., as it was produced by Castle Rock, which now is under Warner Bros.’ umbrella.

“Seinfeld” grossed about $600 million in license fees and ad revenue in its first cycle, and wowed the industry by reaping even more for its second cycle. Earning more in cycle two in syndication is a rarity: Usually by the time an off-network sitcom has completed its first cycle in syndication, ratings have dipped so much that its ad value is minimal, so it usually draws a much lower license fee.

“Seinfeld” has earned some $2 billion in syndication.

The second cycle of “Friends” will begin in December 2004 — if this season proves to be the laffer’s last on NBC. If, however, NBC and the show’s producers go forward on another season, the second cycle will begin in September 2005. With each additional original season, the second cycle gets pushed back by 39 weeks.

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