Cabler nabs 'Fantastic Four,' 'Robots,' 'Ray'

NEW YORK — FX has engineered one of the biggest theatrical-movie deals in its 11-year history, shelling out about $75 million to buy the network window to 12 titles from 20th Century Fox, including “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “Fantastic Four” and “Robots.” buy

In a separate deal, FX agreed to pony up more than $5 million to Lions Gate Films for the network premiere of “Crash,” the melodrama with Sandra Bullock that has grossed $53 million in U.S. theaters.

Chuck Saftler, senior VP of programming for FX Networks, ticked off the number of theatrical hits the net has purchased in the last year to serve as first plays in the network window: Columbia’s “Spider-Man 2,” Warner Bros.’ “Batman Begins,” 20th’s “The Day After Tomorrow,” Miramax’s “The Aviator,” Universal’s “Ray” and 20th’s “I, Robot” and “Dodgeball.”

Industry observers say FX’s recent movie-buying binge may have catapulted the network ahead of such aggressive buyers as TBS/TNT and NBC Universal’s USA Network. But the Turner nets are no slouch, having sprung in the last year for such titles as “War of the Worlds,” “The Longest Yard,” “Hitch” and “The Bourne Supremacy.”

“We’re looking to align our broadcast-premiere theatricals with our lineup of scripted original programming,” Saftler said. “One of our goals is to create a balance that will target the 18-to-49-year-old demographic.” FX’s original series include “The Shield,” “Nip/Tuck” and “Rescue Me,” all of which score solidly in the Nielsens.

Highly visible theatricals can serve as promotional vehicles for original series, and FX often schedules them as lead-ins to new episodes of the series.

FX and 20th Century Fox say that, while they’re News Corp. sister companies, FX paid fair-market value for the movies; other cable networks had a chance to bid.

And FX’s buying spree goes well beyond its major-studio sibling to include movie pickups from Universal, Warner Bros., Columbia Pictures and Paramount.

The other titles in the 20th bundle, some of which will get to FX in 2008, after their exclusive pay TV run on HBO, are “Kingdom of Heaven,” “Fever Pitch,” “Hide & Seek,” “Electra,” “Taxi,” “Sideways,” “Paparazzi,” “Flight of the Phoenix” and “Fat Albert.”

As part of the deal, Twentieth TV reserves the right to sell any of the pictures in a window to a broadcast network. Twentieth would carve the window out in the second or third year of FX’s five-year window. The most likely titles to stir the interest of a broadcast network are “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and “Fantastic Four.”

As a sidelight to FX’s purchase of “Crash,” the network is developing a series version of the movie, signing Laurence Andries (“Medical Investigation,” “Boomtown”) as showrunner.

(Denise Martin in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)

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