USA explores ‘Virgin’ territory

Net also acquiring 'Skeleton,' 'Serenity'

“The 40-Year-Old Virgin” is pocketing about $13 million in license fees from the USA Network in an exclusive four-year deal.

USA is a sibling of NBC Universal Domestic, distributor of “Virgin,” but the parties to the deal said the net paid top dollar because other buyers surfaced to bid on the movie, which has grossed a strapping $104 million in U.S. theaters.

In addition to “Virgin,” USA bought two other titles from NBC U: Kate Hudson horror movie “The Skeleton Key,” which went for about $5 million, and Joss Whedon’s “Serenity,” which fetched $3 million or so. USA’s sister Sci Fi Channel will get some plays of “Serenity,” which is a continuation of “Firefly,” the space Western cancelled by the Fox Network in midseason despite its cult following. USA gets “Skeleton” and “Serenity” in May 2008 and “Virgin” in July 2008, after all three complete their first-window runs on HBO as part of an exclusive pay TV deal.

NBC U reserves the right to carve out a window within the USA license term to sell runs of each of the three titles to a broadcast network or to another cable net.

The pickup of “Virgin” keeps USA in the movie-buying game with such aggressive cable competitors as TBS/TNT and FX. Last month, USA ponied up $23 million for the first plays of “Dukes of Hazzard” and for later plays in the network window of “Terminator 3,” “Troy” and “Alexander,” all from Warner Bros. Domestic Cable TV.

Other movie purchases by USA in the last year include early windows to “National Treasure,” “The Pacifier” and “Hostage,” as well as the post-ABC window to “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

USA’s need for movies has abated somewhat this season as it started airing World Wrestling Entertainment’s “WWE Raw” every Monday after outbidding Spike TV for the rights. It has also begun stripping “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” as a companion piece to “Law & Order: SVU.”

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