Viacom sibs pact for off-Showtime run

As part of BET’s biggest move into buying off-network series, the Viacom-owned cable network has secured cable syndication rights to sister pay TV net Showtime’s “Soul Food.”

BET will air a 12-episode preview of “Soul” Tuesdays at 9 p.m., starting with the pilot on Jan. 21. The segs on BET will lead up to — and feature promotion of — the show’s fourth season debut on Showtime April 9. The final season will air sometime next year; the full off-Showtime run on BET will begin next year as well.

“Debra (Lee, BET prexy-chief operating officer) and I are up here to prove there is such a thing as synergy, at least at Viacom,” Jerry Offsay, Showtime’s programming prexy, told attendees at the Television Critics Assn. winter press tour Wednesday at the Renaissance Hotel.

Lee said the deal was a nice way to finish “our second year as a member of the Viacom family.”

While Offsay has been hesitant in the past to allow the hit Showtime series to appear anywhere but Showtime, the BET deal may have been a matter of “Soul Food’s” survival.

Pact in part has enabled Showtime and Paramount Network Television — “Soul’s” producer and another Viacom sibling — to come close to working out a new recipe for the production, Offsay told Daily Variety.

The corporate cousins have been discussing the future of the skein — specifically how it can be produced without financial bellyaches — at least since the fall (Daily Variety, Oct. 28).

In a situation representative of the problems many cable networks and producers are facing, the collapse of the international TV marketplace meant Paramount could lose money under the previous license fee deal it had for “Soul Food.”

In addition to the “Soul Food” pact, BET and distributor Paramount Domestic Television have made off-network deals on “The Parkers” and “Girlfriends.” Both half-hours currently air on UPN.

The off-net run of “The Parkers,” which is a production of Par unit Big Ticket Television, will debut on BET in September. “Girlfriends,” which Happy Camper Prods. and Gramnet Prods. produce in association with Par Network TV, will debut on BET in 2004.

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