Sale marks first cabler-to-cabler pact

A correction was made to this article on July 21, 2005.

Sony Pictures TV has sold the rerun rights to its hit FX series “The Shield” to Spike TV for a per-episode price in the low- to mid-six figures.

It marks the first time one basic-cable network picked up the signature series of a competing basic-cable network.

Previous pattern was for the net that commissioned the series and promoted it into a success to buy the backend and play the reruns multiple times during different parts of the day.

While Spike has the right to play “The Shield” Monday-Friday, Sony has also sold a near-simultaneous double run of the series on the weekend to all 26 of the Tribune Broadcasting-owned TV stations in off-network syndication. Spike will get “Shield” episodes for one-night-a-week play in March, a six-month jump on Tribune, which won’t be able to start playing it until September 2006.

Tribune, and other stations throughout the country, won’t pay any cash, instead giving seven minutes in each hourlong run to Sony for sale to national advertisers. The Tribune license term is two years, less than half the term of Spike’s contract, which is dependent on how many “Shield” episodes Sony ends up producing.

One reason the cash license fees for “The Shield” were far lower than the $2.5 million an hour coughed up by A&E for “The Sopranos,” the $1.92 million per shelled out by USA and Bravo for “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and the $1 million-plus chalked up by all of the “CSI” series, “Without a Trace” and “Cold Case” is that these shows deliver a plot resolution by the end of the hour, with few, if any, loose threads.

“Shield,” by contrast, features story arcs that carry over through multiple episodes — a formula that usually doesn’t translate into high rerun numbers.

In addition, the rough, R-rated content of many “Shield” episodes will probably restrict Spike and Tribune from playing it in time periods earlier than 10 p.m. unless they do their own editing of the show.

Robert Friedman, senior VP of programming for Spike TV, said he didn’t envision any major editing of the “Shield” hours, although the net’s censors will go over the episodes carefully.

Spike, which bills itself as the network aimed at men, is particularly enamored of the large number of men 18-49 who watch the show on FX.

One suggestive precedent for “The Shield” going to Spike is the pay TV shows that have gravitated to basic cable, such as “The Sopranos” to A&E, “Sex and the City” to TBS and “The Larry Sanders Show” to Bravo.

Sony has produced 54 hours of “The Shield” for FX, which has committed to a fifth season of 13 more episodes.

The show’s ratings picked up this season, partly due to Glenn Close’s stint as a regular, but Close won’t be back next season, electing to stay on the East Coast to bring up her children.

The creator and exec producer of “The Shield” is Shawn Ryan for Fox TV Studios and Sony Pictures TV. Two other exec producers are Scott Brazil and Glen Mazzara.

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