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Fox’s WFLD to strip ‘Seinfeld’ in Chi

Fox-owned WFLD in Chicago has broken Tribune Broadcasting’s grip on “Seinfeld” reruns in the nation’s top three TV markets.

The station came out the surprise winner in a bidding war for the hit NBC sitcom.

Sources differed on the price. One said the cash-plus-barter show from Columbia TriStar TV Distribution fetched far more in Chicago than Buena Vista TV’s “Home Improvement,” which is estimated to have garnered $ 125,000-$ 135,000 per episode as part of a group deal with the Fox-owned stations.

Still another source suggested “Seinfeld” finished in the “Home Improvement” price ballpark.

WFLD beat out Trib’s WGN-TV and indie WPWR for the rights to “Seinfeld,” which will begin its syndication run in fall 1995. Col/TriStar TV Distribution prez Barry Thurston said even he was surprised by the outcome.

The initial bids from the three Chicago stations are believed to have come in far above the minimum asking price of $ 110,500 per episode. Col/TriStar is selling the first cycle of reruns, which will consist of 108 episodes airing over 182 weeks.

Market sources said the race came down to WFLD and WGN, which each submitted multiple bids.

WGN had been the odds-on favorite for the series in Chicago after “Seinfeld” went to Trib’s WPIX-TV in New York for $ 238,000-$ 255,000 per episode and to KTLA for more than $ 220,000 per episode (Daily Variety, March 21).

By comparison, the Fox stations anted up an estimated $ 235,000 per episode in New York and $ 275,000 in L.A. for “Home Improvement.”

Both series are believed to be on target to take in $ 2 million-$ 3 million per episode from all markets. Still, no one is certain just how good a barometer the top three markets are of a series’ national sales potential.

Now that Col/TriStar has wrapped up the big three with “Seinfeld,” Thurston said the syndicator will start making presentations next week to station groups covering other major markets.

Thurston isn’t sure where he will go next. He’s waiting to gauge the interest level of various broadcast groups, but expects the pace of sales to greatly increase by May or June.

In Chicago, meanwhile, WFLD general manager Stacey Marks-Bronner said the station will most likely air “Seinfeld” at 6:30 p.m., leading into Fox’s primetime schedule.

The series will cap an impressive lineup of off-net sitcoms airing on WFLD in early fringe and access, with “Cosby” expected to lead off at 5 p.m., followed by “The Simpsons” at 5:30 and “Home Improvement” at 6. WFLD bid aggressively for the series “because we believe it is important to have anchor shows to build a TV station,” Marks-Bronner said.

Both Marks-Bronner and Thurston believe WFLD will profit, though market competitors question whether the station will be able to recoup its investment on the high-priced comedies. One rival even suggested “Seinfeld” was a “stretch” at the minimum asking price.

“That’s just not accurate,” Thurston said. “Anyone who says that doesn’t know the business well enough. … The minimum price level was certainly set on the basis of what the competitiveness of the market would be. We were pricing for access.”

The syndicator and station both pointed to the show’s strong demographic performance in the market with the key 18-49 and 25-54 audience.

Unlike New York and Los Angeles, there were not any network O&Os making bids in Chicago.

Col/TriStar has enjoyed success in the past with other network stations in the market, having previously sold the off-Fox series “Married … with Children” to NBC-owned WMAQ three years ago and “Who’s the Boss?” to CBS’ WBBM in the late 1980s — a sale that network insiders said caused other O&Os to cut their budgets during that fiscal year.

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