Cable fare gets cleaned up for syndication

Amid an arid climate for half-hour comedies, station managers and syndication execs this year have their fingers crossed — and one hand on the censor button — hoping several edgy off-cable comedies perform well.

HBO’s “Sex and the City” launches into broadcast syndication Sept. 19, running six nights a week on Tribune stations, among other outlets. It will likely be paired with ensemble comedies such as “Will & Grace” and “Friends” in latenight.

The four-year cash-barter group deal, aided by HBO corporate sibling Warner Bros. Domestic TV, includes all 94 episodes of “Sex,” with the lurid stuff edited out.

Also on Sept. 19, Comedy Central’s sanitized version of “South Park” will hit late fringe on a hodgepodge of big-market stations that include New York’s WPIX, Los Angeles’ KCAL and Chicago’s WCIU.

Meanwhile, Sony Pictures TV this fall will launch a syndie version of Oxygen’s bawdy “Girls Behaving Badly.”

How these skeins clean up “will, fairly or unfairly, determine whether cable is a source for future syndicated programming,” says Bill Carroll, VP of programming for station rep firm Katz TV.

For his part, industry consultant Chuck Larsen notes, “It’s already been proven that cable shows work in syndication.” Larsen was behind MTV’s “The Real World,” the very first off-cable syndie launch in 1999.

He does add, however, that if off-cable comedies such as “Sex and the City” are to command license fees similar to what’s enjoyed by A-tier broadcast laffers, they’ll have to perform well enough to be moved beyond late-night time periods.

In terms of more traditional off-net channels, two half-hour comedies built around African-American comedians are set to premiere Sept. 12. Twentieth Television is launching “The “Bernie Mac Show” on Fox O&Os, among other stations, while Buena Vista TV will debut “My Wife and Kids,” starring Damon Wayans, on Tribune outlets, among others.

“We’re really bullish on this show,” says Twentieth TV exec VP and general sales manager Paul Franklin of “Bernie Mac.” “The network moved it to so many different nights and so many different time periods. Now that people know where to find it, I think we’re going to see a rejuvenation.”

Also, following “CSI’s” impressive first-season run in weekend syndication, Twentieth and Buena Vista have high hopes for the respective off-net launches of “24” and “Alias.”

Buena Vista has cleared the latter on Fox O&Os, among other stations, starting the week of Sept. 19. Beginning the week of Sept. 26, “24” will be paired with “CSI” on outlets including Viacom stations.

To help the serialized “24” play in syndication, Twentieth will include recaps before each episode to get auds up to speed. Stations will also replay the same episode on Saturday and Sunday.

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