Show nabs big bucks in off-network sales

Liz Lemon has reason to celebrate: NBC’s “30 Rock” has nabbed megabucks in off-network sales to Comedy Central and WGN America.

The Universal Media Studios laffer starring Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin was said to have fetched an impressive fee of about $800,000 per episode in total from separate deals with Viacom-owned Comedy Central and Tribune-owned WGN. Both outlets will begin airing the episodes as a Monday-Friday strip in fall 2011.

Laffer sold for a surprisingly high price at a time when the recession and the slump in ad sales has made for a generally down market for programming deals. It’s also a healthy number considering that “30 Rock” has been a modest ratings performer in primetime for the Peacock.

Skein drew strong interest from several cablers, including TBS and E!, which allowed NBC Universal Television Distribution to drive up the price over several rounds of bidding. There is no repurposing element to the deal prior to the start of Monday-Friday runs in 2011, which made the Comedy Central and WGN offer attractive to NBC U.

The “30 Rock” fee paid by Comedy Central alone is high by cable standards for a comedy, though it is a little less than the estimated $750,000 per episode that Lifetime ponied up last fall for “How I Met Your Mother” rights beginning next year. The cable record for off-net sitcom rights remains the $800,000 that FX has committed for primetime’s most-watched laffer, “Two and a Half Men.”

Show-within-a-show vehicle “30 Rock,” which features Fey as harried TV producer Lemon and Baldwin as a gonzo NBC exec, has been a critical darling since its debut in fall 2006. It has earned the comedy series Emmy for the past two years. The show, heading into its fourth season on NBC, will have more than 100 segs in the can by the time it bows on Comedy Central and WGN.

David Bernath, Comedy Central’s senior veep of programming, said the cabler pursued “30 Rock” aggressively because it’s a good fit with the Comedy Central aud, and because web execs are confident that the series’ aud will only grow in the next two years.

“Pound for pound, this is one of the funniest shows on TV. The DNA of the show is fabulous,” Bernath said. “I really believe its biggest and broadest days are still ahead of it on NBC.”

Comedy Central has only recently jumped into the off-network acquisition game, adding “Scrubs” repeats to its lineup last year. The cabler was in the hunt for a “Scrubs” companion just as NBC U’s syndie arm got serious about shopping the “30 Rock” rights a few months back.

The “30 Rock” purchase also marks an unusually competitive move in the off-net realm by WGN, which is looking to add more top-tier contempo fare to the cable superstation’s primetime lineup. Industry insiders said WGN execs went in on a bid with Comedy Central at the eleventh hour earlier this month when it appeared that the show was headed for a shared deal between TBS and E!.

It’s understood that WGN’s newly appointed programming team has been actively stocking up on acquisitions timed to bow next year in conjunction with a planned relaunch of the general entertainment channel.

Meanwhile, NBC U TV Distribution is also in the midst of shopping “30 Rock” to local TV stations, which will add more millions to the show’s bottom line.

Frances Manfredi, exec veep and general manager of cable sales for NBC U TV Distribution Group, spearheaded the sale along with division prexy Barry Wallach for the Peacock. Syndie vet Chuck Larsen, head of October Moon Television, served as the rep for the producers and profit participants on the show.

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