Skeins’ cable payday

'Glee,' 'Modern Family' snapped up

In a sign of how top-tier acquisitions still drive basic cable, TV’s two rookie sensations — “Glee” and “Modern Family” — have been snapped up after an off-net cable frenzy.

Twentieth Television was prepping to start shopping both series to cable nets later this year — but then it got the call from NBC Universal.

NBC U’s USA Network was prepared to make a major play for “Family,” ponying up just under $1.5 million an episode — the amount TBS paid for “The Big Bang Theory.” And across the Peacock cable spectrum, Oxygen was anxious to secure musical sensation “Glee” for about $500,000 a seg — and a spin-off reality competish to boot.

Twentieth quickly took both shows around town to gauge the interest — but those pre-emptive NBC U bids were too good to refuse, and too rich for rivals’ pocketbooks.

“That’s some crazy money,” said one rival net exec, referring in particular to the rich “Modern Family” license fee.

Behind both deals was Steve MacDonald, exec VP and general sales manager of basic cable at Twentieth TV.

In putting together the pacts, MacDonald called the Oxygen pact “a unique syndication opportunity” and the “Modern Family” arrangement “an excellent complement to USA Network’s slate of character-driven programs.”

According to insiders, the timing was also right for both. In the case of “Modern Family,” Twentieth was able to capitalize on the afterglow of that “Big Bang” deal — and the fact that as the cable acquisition marketplace is frenzied. And with USA looking to get into the laffer game, the cabler likely saw “Modern Family” as the most attractive of any remaining half-hours coming down the pike.

Meanwhile, with “Glee,” the distributor likely saw an opportunity now to strike while the show is still burning bright. Young-skewing hours like “Glee” generally hit big but then eventually fade — and as a result, Twentieth wouldn’t have wanted to wait much longer before selling the show.

Both shows will bow on their respective cable outlet in 2013.

As part of the “Glee” deal, Oxygen has also landed an unscripted series that will document the search for a cast member.

That show, which had originally been targeted this year for Fox, will now instead air on Oxygen in 2011. The winner will ultimately appear on season three of “Glee.” Oxygen is expected to produce the “Glee” reality show, with reality producers experienced in reality competitions likely to be hired.

Oxygen has also landed the rights to air two “Glee” marathons in 2011 — including a weekend run of the show’s second season (up to that point) next January.

In announcing the deal, Oxygen prexy Jason Klarman pointed out that “Glee” is tops with women 18-34 — which is that channel’s target demo.

As for “Modern Family,” the Monday through Sunday strip will either be paired with another acquisition or with original fare.

USA execs have made it known that the cabler, so far known for its character-driven dramas, would like to get into the half-hour business.

“Modern Family” reps the biggest comedy acquisition to date for USA, which until now had mostly aired comedy castoffs. Its daytime “USAM” franchise (think “Double Trouble,” “Wings” and “Coach”), for example, consisted mostly of mid-range or short-lived laffers from sister Universal TV.

“Modern Family” has scored some of the highest critical acclaim of any half-hour in recent years, and as a family comedy has a chance at remaining a syndication staple for years. But success is not guaranteed: Single-camera shows generally don’t perform as well in off-net as their multi-camera counterparts. (The last ultra-successful single-camera family sitcom, “Malcolm in the Middle,” also sold well in off-net, but then was a syndicated ratings disappointment.)

Both “Glee” and “Modern Family” are two of the biggest breakout hits of the 2009-2010 TV season (the third, “NCIS: LA,” has already been sold off-net to USA) and front-running Emmy contenders as well. Both shows, which will next be sold to stations, come from 20th Century Fox TV.

Cable has been on an acquisition streak as of late — USA, for example, plopped down a hefty $2.3 million-per-ep fee for “NCIS: LA” quickly after that show’s launch last fall.

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