O&Os snap up rerun rights to net's 'Malcolm'

NEW YORK — Twentieth Television has sold the rerun rights to the Fox Network sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle” to the Fox-owned TV stations in 10 major cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Deal will funnel upward of $100 million to Twentieth’s coffers for the first four-and-a-half years of “Malcolm” episodes, which kick off in syndication in fall 2004. The distributor will pocket $1 million more an episode for each year that Fox renews “Malcolm” beyond the first four.

Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of Twentieth TV Domestic, declined to discuss dollar figures but said the deal was a no-brainer for Fox stations because “Malcolm” “will fit in perfectly with other sitcoms on their schedules” such as “The Simpsons,” “That ’70s Show” and “Seinfeld.”

” ‘Malcolm’ works squarely within the tradition of the offbeat, quirky, edgy Fox Network sitcoms like ‘Married With Children’ and ‘The Simpsons,’ ” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz TV, a firm that advises station clients on their programming decisions.

Carroll said that tradition makes “Malcolm” a strategic buy for the Fox O&Os, which will be able “to play it both in access time periods and latenight.” Access for a Fox O&O refers to the 6-8 p.m. time period.

Tribune cities

The 10 markets chosen by Twentieth for the first sales of “Malcolm” were cities in which Tribune Broadcasting owns a competing TV station that usually matches the Fox-owned stations in aggressively bidding for rerun sitcoms.

Since Regency Television is a profit participant in “Malcolm,” Twentieth will be able to show Regency the competitive bid by Tribune and other station owners in each market to prove that the Fox O&O is paying the marketplace license fee.

Twentieth is being extra careful to avoid even the hint of a sweetheart deal because it has suffered a number of lawsuits in the past by, among others, Steven Bochco over the sale of “NYPD Blue” reruns to Twentieth’s sister cable network FX, by David Duchovny over a similar FX deal for “The X-Files,” and by Alan Alda over the ancillary-market sales of “MASH.”

“Our profit participants played a big part in the formulation of Twentieth’s market strategy,” Cook said. “Their representatives were even in the room when we opened the bid envelopes.”

Syndication analysts estimate that “Malcolm” could end up harvesting between $2.5 million and $3 million an episode by the time Twentieth clears markets in more than 90% of the U.S.

Included in that figure is the non-exclusive deal Twentieth will strike with a cable network, which will gain access to “Malcolm” in fall 2007, stripping the series simultaneously with TV stations.

In addition to the license fees, the distributor will tap into a second revenue stream, the three 30-second spots Twentieth carves out within each half-hour run for sale to national advertisers.

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