Fox will keep ’70s’ thru ’05

Central cast of Wednesday laffer locked in

“That ’70s Show” is stayin’ alive until 2005.

Fox and Carsey-Werner-Mandabach have hammered out a deal that will keep the hit Wednesday laffer on the air through the 2004-05 season, the show’s seventh. All the central cast members — including Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher — are locked in for the length of the new deal.

“The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill” are both picked up for next season, so the ” ’70s” deal means the net has three major comedy tentpoles locked in for what promises to be a pivotal season in the TV ratings race.

NBC’s “Friends” and, very likely, “Frasier” will both be gone, while there’s a smaller chance CBS will be without “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

Deal is also good news for C-W-M, which stands to reap millions more in syndie revenue since it will now have another season of the show to supply to stations. Skein entered syndication last season and immediately became one of the top performers in the marketplace.

Fox Entertainment prexy Gail Berman said the net, whose business affairs team is lead by Ira Kurgan, “has spent a lot of time behind the scenes shoring up (new) contracts” for its comedy tentpoles.

As for ” ’70s,” Berman said the show has been “unbelievable” in its performance.

“It performs wherever we put it, whether it’s in originals or repeats,” Berman said. “And creatively, it’s as strong as it’s ever been. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say the first five episodes of this season are the best the show has ever done.”

Last season, ” ’70s” averaged a 5.9/17 in adults 18-49 and a 21 share with viewers 18-34, making it one of the top 25 skeins on TV in most key demos. Skein regularly won its slot, and — even more impressively–showed year-to-year growth. That’s rare for a show in what was then its fifth season.

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