Net gets show in June 2004, to air skein in primetime

HBO got closer to a $100 million payday for “Sex & the City” by selling reruns of the show in basic cable to TBS for a cash license fee of $450,000 for each of the 94 half-hours.

TBS joins the Tribune-owned TV stations as buyers of “Sex,” but TBS gets the show in June 2004, well before it reaches Tribune in TV syndication in the fall of 2005.

For both Tribune and TBS, the license fee is only one part of the transaction: HBO will hold back three 30-second spots within each run for sale to national advertisers, which could add $300,000 or more an episode to the total, depending on the health of the advertising marketplace.

And while Tribune and other TV stations play “Sex” on weeknights, mostly at 11 p.m., TBS plans to run the show four times a week in primetime, probably one hour a night over two nights in mid-week. Like HBO, TBS is part of the Time Warner media empire.

TBS insisted on getting “Sex” 15 months before it kicked off in syndication because the Tribune deal includes the WGN superstation. For the first two years of the four-year deal in syndication, WGN will be able to satellite-feed the episodes to the 50-plus million cable and satellite subscribers outside Chicago that pick up WGN’s signal, making the half-hours directly competitive with those on TBS, which reaches more than 87 million households in the U.S.

Steve Koonin, executive VP and chief operating officer of TBS and TNT, said he’s bullish about the Nielsen potential of “Sex” because only about 30 million households buy HBO every month. “Everybody’s heard about the show, but not that many people have seen it,” he said.

Because “Sex” will run in primetime, not during the early evening, Koonin said TBS may run episodes that are less edited than for TV syndication. Television is a lot racier than it was a few years ago, and another batch of taboos, particularly in language and sex, seem to drop away every season, which may allow TBS to run the episodes closer to the way they were shot for HBO. Koonin said that, at least initially, TBS would probably run the version of “Sex “with cover footage that HBO shot for some of the more sexually graphic scenes.

“We look on ‘Sex & the City,’ ” he said, “as one of the building blocks of TBS’ lineup of half-hour comedies.” These include such hits as “Friends” and “Seinfeld,” which TBS run now, and “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which the network will start stripping in the fall of 2004.

David Levy, president of entertainment sales and marketing for Turner Broadcasting, said he plans to do lots of promotional partnerships with sponsors on TBS’ run of “Sex.” Advertisers will pay a premium for these kind of “custom exposures,” as Levy put it.

TBS gets total exclusivity of “Sex” for the summer months of 2004. But HBO will be able to resume running the episodes in fall ’04 on the main network and on one of its multiplex channels.

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