Warner Bros. inks big bucks syndie sale

In a mega-bucks syndication deal, cabler TBS and 10 Fox Television Stations outlets have nabbed the off-network rights to the CBS laffer “The Big Bang Theory.”

Deal orchestrated by Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution is said to have set a record price for a cable off-network sitcom purchase, with TBS forking over around $1.5 million per episode, plus one and a half minutes of barter advertising time in every run. None of the parties involved would discuss financial details of the sale.

Deal calls for reruns of the Warner Bros. TV show to bow on TBS and 10 Fox O&Os — including stations in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — and other broadcast stations in fall of 2011.

TBS will have rights to run the show in primetime while broadcast stations will run it in access and late fringe slots.

The blockbuster auction of “Big Bang” rights has been closely monitored by the biz as the show has seen its ratings spike this season. It is the most successful sitcom to come on the block since “Men” was sold in 2006. TBS’ fee for “Big Bang” blows past the cable off-net sitcom record of about $800,000 set by FX’s purchase of “Men.”

“When the top sitcom on television becomes available, you have to take it seriously from both a qualitative and competitive standpoint, which we did,” said Frank Cicha, senior veep of programming for Fox TV Stations.

” ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is simply one of the best comedies to come out in a very long time,” said Michael Wright, exec veep and head of programming for TBS, TNT and TCM.

Like “Men,” “Big Bang” hails from Chuck Lorre Prods, which only made it more attractive to buyers. “Big Bang,” co-created and exec produced by Lorre and Bill Prady, is wrapping up its third season on CBS.

” ‘The Big Bang Theory’ presents an increasingly rare proposition for broadcast stations and cable services: the chance to acquire a traditional, multi-camera, A-tier comedy that is still expanding its audience on network television and which is poised for continued growth in future seasons,” said WBDTD prexy Ken Werner. “We are excited that our broadcast and cable partners have come together in a synergistic manner to embrace ‘The Big Bang Theory’ as this generation’s A-tier sitcom.”

Bidding among cablers was known to have been intense among TBS, FX, USA Network and Comedy Central. But TBS had the imperative to nab the hot property, as the well-heeled cabler is in need of new hits to freshen up its primetime lineup.

On the broadcast side, the only other contended in the first round of bidding for sales in the major markets was Tribune Broadcasting. Tribune stations have prospered with the success of “Men” reruns during the past few years. But having missed out on the “Men” windfall, the Fox stations had every incentive to put up a big enough bid to land the property.

The barter advertising time included in both the broadcast and cable deals are sure to add many more millions to the studio’s coffers over the life of the contract. Indeed, “Men’s” ratings have been strong enough to generate as much as $80 million-$100 million in barter revenue for the studio.

The strong interest from cable and broadcast outlets allowed Warner Bros. to maximize the coin paid by both camps to ensure that the show bowed on broadcast and cable at the same time.

On the broadcast side, the deal commits stations to take at least nine seasons of “Big Bang.” The length of the term for TBS was not immediately clear.

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