It's 'Saturday Night' on cabler

Live from New York it’s E! Entertainment.

In an exclusive, multiyear deal, E! Networks has licensed the entire library of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” most of which has been based at Comedy Central for more than a decade.

Pact, which insiders said is worth in the $50 million range, represents one of — if not the — largest, priciest acquisitions in E!’s history. All told it will involve some 625 episodes of the latenight comedy showcase. The entertainment cabler will use “SNL” as a marquee primetime series.

Agreement marks the second big pact between NBC and E! in recent weeks; NBC and E! Entertainment Television also made a groundbreaking deal last month for a same-day second window airing of NBC’s new latenight interview show “Last Call With Carson Daly” (Daily Variety, Feb. 12).

“To be true to what we are, the home of celebrity, there are not that many acquisitions we could take a look at. When it became available, we jumped on it,” E! Networks president-CEO Mindy Herman told Daily Variety. ” ‘SNL’ is where celebs come to have fun, and they know they have made it when they host. … Plus, so many stars were born there, and it’s one of the few shows that truly has stood the test of time. Even its skits have become part of pop culture.”

Keen on themes

Herman added that since so many big stars have hosted “SNL” over the years, the acquisition will also help fuel the cable network’s efforts to mount theme programming packages.

“Tom Hanks has been on ‘SNL’ on several occasions, which would give us the opportunity at E! when a big Tom Hanks movie comes out or perhaps doing a Tom Hanks week, with a “Revealed” episodes of Tom Hanks ‘SNL,’ ” she explained.

“Over the past 27 years, Lorne Michaels has made ‘Saturday Night Live’ a television institution, and we’re excited it has found a second home on E!,” NBC West Coast president Scott Sassa said. “The rebroadcasts on E! will allow viewers to catch up with their favorite classic and current shows and get the full ‘SNL’ experience.”

Beginning in September, E! will begin airing episodes from the current 2001-02 season of “SNL”; every fall thereafter, net will get the previous season to air.

The remaining library of “SNL” episodes from the 1975-76 through 2000-01 seasons come to E! by January 2004, with the deal extending through 2008.

Until the end of 2003, Comedy Central, which has been airing repeat episodes of “SNL” since the net’s inception, will maintain the rights to air “SNL” episodes from the 1980-81 through 2000-01 TV seasons. Sources said the incumbent network deemed the “SNL” pricetag too high to renew its deal, particularly at a time when the network’s own original programming has taken off.

In addition, E! has struck a separate deal with Michaels’ Broadway Video to bring the first five seasons of “SNL” (1975-76 through 1979-80) to the network beginning April 1 (Broadway Video controls the rights to the first five seasons through the end of 2003).

Beginning April 1, E! will air the 102 classic episodes of “SNL,” featuring such original and early cast members as Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Bill Murray and Gilda Radner, Monday-Friday at 7 p.m.

In honor of the premiere of “Saturday Night Live” on E!, the network plans to launch its new original series “TV Tales,” with an episode focusing on the legendary NBC series. Series reveals everything you didn’t know about your favorite television shows, featuring archival behind-the-scenes footage and new celebrity interviews. “TV Tales: Saturday Night Live” will make its debut on E! Entertainment Television March 31 from 8-10 p.m.

NBC Enterprises prexy Ed Wilson and the division’s senior VP of cable sales, Frances Manfredi, was instrumental in putting together the E!-“SNL” deal, as were E! exec VP of entertainment Mark Sonnenberg and E! VP of program planning and acquisitions David Bernath.

“Saturday Night Live,” which premiered October 11, 1975, is broadcast live from NBC’s famed Studio 8H in New York City’s Rockefeller Center. The program is a production of Broadway Video in association with NBC Studios.

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