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$100 mil for U’s pic pack

'Brockovich,' 'U-571,' 'Jaws' among films dealt to cable

NEW YORK — Universal Domestic TV has engineered a massive 155-title movie deal that will funnel more than $100 million into its coffers from six different cable networks, more money than U has ever harvested from one movie package in its history.

The movies include “Erin Brockovich,” “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” “American Pie,” “Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps,” “U-571” and “Patch Adams.” Older, library product from Universal also fleshes out the package, highlighted by titles such as “Jaws,” “Apollo 13,” “Back to the Future,” “The Blues Brothers,” “Midnight Run” and “The Breakfast Club.”

The six cable networks that will cherry-pick the Universal package are USA Network, ABC Family, A&E, Lifetime, Comedy Central and a sixth that asked not to be identified.

Most of these networks will take their runs of the pictures after they complete their first network window on a broadcast or a cable network.

Smaller fish

But a few of the titles that didn’t make a big splash at the box office will end up as a firstrun cable exclusive. For example, A&E will premiere “Gosford Park” in 2004 and “Far From Heaven” in 2005, before any other broadcast or cable network. A&E has also bought 17 other post-network-window titles, led by “Erin Brockovich” (a two-year exclusive, beginning in 2007), “Lost World” and the four-hour, off-USA 2003miniseries “Helen of Troy.” USA will pony up a total of about $7 million for the 19 pictures.

“This deal proves that there’s still a healthy demand in the marketplace for theatrical movies,” said Steve Rosenberg, president of Universal Domestic TV.

Rosenberg said two of his executives — Arthur Hasson , executive VP of sales and new business, and Bruce Casino, senior VP of cable-network and ancillary sales — spent nine months orchestrating the logistics of the deal.

Mixed bag

In the past, Universal would sell 30 or so movies to one or two cable networks. The buyers would agree to take all of the pictures to get the blockbuster titles, even if some of the lesser movies were not particularly geared to the network’s target audience.

So Universal decided to add TV movies and library titles to the package because of requests from cable networks like Lifetime and Comedy Central, which hadn’t previously bought movies in volume from the studio. Lifetime, in particular, plays movies almost every night, but is running short on the reruns of TV movies that are its stock in trade because broadcast networks have cut back drastically on commissioning them. So Lifetime is searching for more women-oriented theatrical movies.

“We’ve customized these movies so that the networks end up buying only the titles that they’re comfortable with,” Rosenberg said.

The license term of the movies ranges from as short as one month (for a venerable library title) to as many as two years (for a fresher picture like “Brockovich”). During those periods, the cable network gets that title exclusively.

For some of the major titles, Rosenberg said Universal has written a clause in the cable-network deal that allows it to carve out a one-month window for sale of the movie to TV stations in syndication.

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