MTM’s “Evening Shade,” which was scheduled to debut in off-net syndication this fall, has instead landed at the company’s sister cable web the Family Channel, for nearly $ 300,000 per episode.
The decision, which stemmed from a belief the show would reap more in cable than syndication, disappointed some stations looking to use “Shade” for a specific purpose.
“It is a very poor way to do business,” said Clyde Formby, who acquired the show for three of Heritage Media’s TV stations. “I can’t believe a company would go through all the expense to ensure that it is a ‘firm go,’ then turn around and do this.”
But there weren’t too many tears shed, since many of the approximately 80 buyers intended
Family Channel sells Cable
Health stakes. Story, page 3 to air it on the weekends under a new “station-friendly” plan introduced last fall. Station reps said they believe it is still early enough for most broadcasters to find a replacement.
Sources say MTM will offer its other syndicated properties, including “Rescue 911” and “WKRP in Cincinnati,” to affected stations if they are in dire need of product. But not manyare expected to take the distributor up on its offer.
With its older-skewing rural appeal, “Shade” sold well in markets 50 and below, but it failed to generate much excitement among the big urban stations that control most of the money.
“Shade’s” less-than-overwhelming sales performance in the larger markets would have hurt its overnight ratings, which provide an early indication of a show’s ultimate success or failure.
When cable interest in the series emerged shortly after January’s National Assn. of TV Program Executives confab, MTM opted to explore the offers. Ultimately, the show’s profit participants, including star Burt Reynolds and exec producers Harry and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, decided cable was the way to go.
Another factor figuring in the decision is the more favorable cable residual structure. Broadcast deals permit residual earners to receive a flat fee no matter how much stations pay, while cable operates on a lower percentage of the gross scale.
The basic cable price for “Shade,” which fetched about half as much as MCA TV’s “Major Dad” and Paramount’s “Wings” did from their co-owned USA Network, was driven up by a bidding war. Sources say that besides Family, USA, Lifetime and Fox’s new FX cable web had all submitted offers.
USA was apparently in the sitcom market because of its unhappiness with the performance of “Wings”; Lifetime was looking for a companion to “Designing Women”; and FX was seeking to add some current programs to its large roster of classic fare.
Highest bid wins
MTM opted to go with the Family Channel over the weekend. Sources said the cable channel, which needed a boost for its primetime schedule, submitted the highest bid.
“We paid far more for this than anything we’ve ever licensed,” said Paul Krimisier, Family’s senior VP of programming. He declined comment on the $ 300, 000-per-episode figure.
There was a wide range of bidding, with some of the cable webs closer to the $ 100,000-per-episode mark.
Although Family Channel will have the show exclusively at first, Krimisier did not rule out the unlikely possibility of broadcasters getting a crack at it in a few years.
B’cast future possible
“If there are stations who want the show after we have exploited it, there are options there,” he said.
Although the license fee is essentially going from one pocket into another, Bill Carroll, VP/director of programming for the Katz rep firm, said the MTM-Family deal looked like a sound business decision.
“If the others all believed that there was an intrinsic value for ‘Shade’ … then why not hold on to something that they are deficit financing for themselves ,” he said.
Carroll figures the owners of MTM and Family opted to keep “Shade” after analyzing what a comparable show would cost the cable network in the open marketplace.
The Family deal represents the final chapter in a long, difficult sales journey for “Shade.”
MTM initially rolled out the series for off-net syndication in October 1992 under a complicated and expensive plan that caused stations to balk.
Change of plan
Under new ownership and a different management regime, the cash-plus-barter program was pulled from the market last May. A revised plan, drafted by MTM TV distribution president Chuck Larsen, attracted more stations because it was flexible.
But it may have been too malleable. The two-year contract allowed stations to air “Shade” for half the time as a weekend hour, leading many to consider it a bullpen player.
Aside from “Shade,” MTM has already canceled the low-rated live-action kids series “Xuxa” for a second season.
It has also turned the proposed fall teen sitcom strip “Boogie’s Diner” into a weekly because of poor time periods coming out of NATPE and has yet to provide a firm production commitment for the gameshow “Trivial Pursuit.”