Eye leverages new Gotham station to snare deal; TBS pays record bucks

Warner Bros. has orchestrated another blockbuster off-network sitcom sale, setting a new record price for its pact with TBS for “2 Broke Girls.”

Overshadowed by the heft of the estimated $1.7 million per episode that TBS agreed to pay for the show is another significant development for the off-network marketplace: CBS is diving into the big-bucks sitcom rerun biz with its newly acquired New York station, WLNY.

Warner Bros. on Wednesday announced the concurrent sale of “2 Broke Girls” to TBS and a clutch of local stations, includingCBS-owned WLNY and KCAL Los Angeles, starting in 2015. Because the cable and station deals generated such a windfall, Warner Bros. will keep “2 Broke Girls” reruns off of digital platforms entirely for the foreseeable future, as a reward for the traditional buyers stepping up in a big way.

The emergence of CBS as an off-net buyer with outlets in Gotham and Los Angeles is welcome news to the majors, which still rely on local station sales for big syndie paydays. With consolidation of station ownership over the past two decades, the off-net marketplace has been ruled in recent years by Tribune Broadcasting and Fox Television Stations, the two groups with stations in the largest markets that invest in sitcom rights. (Big Three network affils typically don’t shell out for sitcoms.)

The fact that the Eye would outbid Tribune and Fox for “2 Broke Girls” in top markets is a clear sign that CBS intends to beef up WLNY significantly and take KCAL into new territory. In all, CBS stations picked up the show in 13 markets, including its CW affils in Boston, Dallas, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. (Although “2 Broke Girls” airs on the CBS network in primetime, Eye-owned stations had to compete with other groups for the rerun rights.)

The 13 CBS stations also picked up off-network rights to another Warner Bros. TV-produced CBS sitcom, “Mike and Molly,” which bows in fall 2014. Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution strategically put the series up for sale at the same time to maximize the value of both, which will air in the 9-10 p.m. block this fall on the Eye network’s Monday lineup.

Because there was competitive bidding, CBS undoubtedly agreed to a sizable six-figure license fee in N.Y. and L.A. for “2 Broke Girls,” which came out of the box strong in its preem last fall and ended its first season as primetime’s most-watched new series.

CBS bought WLNY last December. Having another New York outlet in the fold gives the Eye a bigger share of the nation’s top market, alongside its flagship O&O WCBS, and it gives the group newfound muscle in buying off-network rights for the CW affils and indies in its station group, said CBS Television Stations prexy Peter Dunn.

The indie outlet doesn’t have a high profile in the market, but it does have wide cable and satellite distribution throughout the tri-state area. And CBS has plenty of assets, including billboards and six Gotham radio stations, to promote the new-and-improved WLNY, which is in the process of launching local newscasts.

“There are a lot of good reasons why we bought WLNY, and one of them is it gives us a huge opportunity for us to compete (for shows) as an off-network launch group,” Dunn told Variety. “These shows will fuel the future growth of the station…I just wish 2014 would come sooner.”

On the opposite coast, the move to commit big money for a sitcom on KCAL is also notable. The indie station has traditionally focused on news and sports coverage, though its ability to compete for sports rights has dwindled in recent years as cablers have scooped up more exclusive contracts, such as Time Warner Cable’s pact with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The outcome of the “2 Broke Girls” and “Mike and Molly” auction also reflects the start of a shift in focus for Tribune Broadcasting stations. The station group is increasingly focused on developing its own firstrun fare. That was underscored by the deal CBS’ syndie wing announced Monday to bring Arsenio Hall back to latenight, with Tribune’s major-market stations as its core launch group.

Fox stations, meanwhile, may have tempered their bids because the group has huge dollars committed to sitcoms rights including Warner Bros.’ own “The Big Bang Theory” and “Modern Family,” from its sibling 20th Century Fox TV studio, which bows in 2013.

Still, Tribune and Fox stations did make plays for “2 Broke Girls,” which went through three rounds of bidding before the local deals were sealed. Demand for the show on the cable side was also heated, with three rounds of bidding among TBS, USA Network, FX and at least two other contenders.

The timing of the sale was ideal for Warner Bros., as there are no other major hits coming down the sitcom pike in the near future other than possibly Fox’s “New Girl.” Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution prexy Ken Werner realized the depth of interest in “2 Broke Girls,” even after just one season, a few months ago when he was shopping the reruns of ABC domestic comedy “The Middle” to cable buyers.

“We are thrilled that ‘2 Broke Girls’ will have the opportunity to drive viewers to TBS in a similar way that ‘The Big Bang Theory’ has, becoming a staple of their comedy lineup,” Werner said.

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