Man of Steel flies to net

FX has bought the cable TV rights to “Superman Returns” six months in advance of its June 30 theatrical premiere.

The network has agreed to pay Warner Bros. Domestic Cable about 12% of the eventual domestic gross, with a cap at between $17 million and $25 million, depending on the contract’s length of term and on whether Warner finds another buyer to share the window with FX. Cabler gets the first burst of “Superman” runs in its TV premiere early in 2009.

FX declined to comment.

Warners also sold to the net the cable TV rights to the Harrison Ford thriller “Firewall,” set for theatrical release on Feb. 10.

FX has gone on a buying spree since about 2002, harvesting such titles as “Spider-Man 2,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Batman Begins,” “I, Robot,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “The Fantastic Four” and “X-Men 2.”

For the past three years, FX has used big-grossing theatrical pics as one linchpin of its primetime strategy to become a top-five-rated cable net in adults 18-49. (The second linchpin is high-visibility original series like “Nip/Tuck” and “The Shield.”)

Last month, the number of adults 18-49 watching FX’s primetime lineup shot up by 20% compared with December 2004 as the network began scheduling such titles as “Charlie’s Angels 2: Full Throttle,” “Anger Management” and “Daddy Day Care.”

FX moved quickly to lock up “Superman Returns” and “Firewall” to head off its two main cable net rivals, TNT and USA.

In this strike-quickly scenario, waiting to buy “Superman Returns” until after its June release could’ve triggered the built-in advantage that TNT has as a corporate sibling of Warner Bros. Domestic.

Both “Superman Returns” and “Firewall” will appear on HBO next year in the exclusive pay TV window as part of HBO’s output deal with Warner Bros. Pictures.

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