Comic cable lord

Nets pony up bucks for Sandler pix, hoping to cash in on long shelf life

Joy reigned supreme at the Paramount TV Group last spring when CBS joined Turner Broadcasting’s TNT and TBS in agreeing to pony up a strapping $27 million for a shared network window to the Adam Sandler remake of “The Longest Yard.”

The pricey “Yard” sale in a sluggish marketplace, where most theatrical movies have all the appeal of a New York City transit strike, followed other frenzied auctions of pics starring the former “Saturday Night Live” funnyman. “50 First Dates” chalked up a $20 million license fee from USA and the WB; another Sandler title from Columbia, “Mr. Deeds,” harvested $20 million from a totally different network combo, Fox and TBS.

Cablers are willing to pony up for Sandler pics because even modest B.O. performers such as “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore” have proven remarkably durable upon repeat airings.

Fox and TBS are already starting to congratulate themselves for their investment in “Mr. Deeds.” During its first run on Fox on Nov. 26, 2004, “Mr. Deeds” racked up 6.8 million total viewers, averaging a solid 2.7 rating in the three key adult demos (18-49, 18-34 and 25-54).

When TBS got hold of “Deeds” last month, the movie ran four times during the weekend of Dec. 2. Three of the four plays ended up as the three highest-rated programs on TBS for the entire week, led by the 3.16 million total viewers who watched the Dec. 2 run.

“Adam Sandler is the king of cable for one good reason,” says Bob Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse U. “His movies are supremely suited for the living room, where you can watch them in your underwear, half-drunk, half-stoned, overdosing on high-sodium snacks.”

According to Nielsen data analyzed by Warner Bros. research:

  • The 43rd run of “Billy Madison” (Jan. 28, 2003) was USA’s seventh highest-rated program out of 86 for that week.

  • The 40th play of “Happy Gilmore” was USA’s seventh highest-rated program for the week of July 25.

  • The 45th cablecast of “The Wedding Singer” ranked as the ninth highest-rated program on TBS for the week of Feb. 21.

  • The 62nd run of “The Waterboy” was TBS’ seventh highest-rated program for the week of Nov. 7.

“People will watch Sandler movies over and over again because the pictures are easily parsed into set pieces and snippets,” says Joe Turow, professor of communications with the Annenberg School at the U. of Pennsylvania.

Kevin Sandler (no relation), assistant professor of media arts at the U. of Arizona, agrees, noting, “The beauty of his movies is that they don’t require anything of you.”

Turow suggests that new technology is tailor-made to showcasing excerpts of the best scenes from Sandler’s movies. “I say chop up the movies into stuff that can be transmitted onto cell phones,” he says. “The kids would love it.”

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