Paxson, Eyemark pact on triple play

In an effort to lay the foundation of a family-friendly broadcast network, Paxson Communications has reached an agreement with Eyemark Entertainment for off-network rights to the CBS series “Touched by an Angel,” “Promised Land” and “Dave’s World.”

Sources say Paxson will shell out $1 million per episode, or at least $100 million over a three- to five-year license term, just for “Touched by an Angel,” the spiritually themed drama that has been one of the brightest spots on CBS’ primetime sked during the past three seasons.

That pricetag would put “Touched” second only to Warner Bros.’ “ER” on the list of network dramas tallying the most coin in syndication. The show is expected to bow in syndication in fall 1998, the same date Paxson is targeting for the network launch.

Reps for Eyemark and Paxson declined to comment on the sale, which has been in the works for some time (Daily Variety, Oct. 14) and is likely to have a big impact on CBS’ bottom line over the next few years. All three shows are produced by CBS’ inhouse production arm, CBS Prods. Moreover, they are the first network properties sold into syndication by Eyemark, CBS’ 2-year-old syndie production-distribution wing.

For the publicly held Paxson Communications, the purchase would represent a major, if risky, investment in the future of its growing UHF station group. Paxson’s 60-plus outlets, which have the potential to reach 60% of TV households, presently air infomercials and other paid programming.

It was unclear Tuesday whether the deal involved an exchange of barter advertising time between Paxson and Eyemark, as is usually the case in the sale of off-network shows.

Paxson’s collection of UHF stations are now far off the radar screen of most TV viewers, limiting the value of advertising spots on those stations.

Also uncertain were the pricetags commanded by “Promised Land,” a sophomore drama from Martha Williamson, the exec producer behind “Touched,” and “Dave’s World,” the now-canceled sitcom loosely based on the life of humorist Dave Barry.

“Promised Land,” chronicling the adventures of a blue-collar family and their pursuit of the American dream, has not performed as well, ratings-wise, as “Touched,” but the show would seem to fit well with Paxson’s ambitious plan to build a network around family-oriented programming.

Paxson’s willingness to take “Dave’s World” as part of a package likely helped spur the deal. “Dave’s World,” which aired on CBS from 1993-97, was viewed as having little rerun value to established broadcast stations and cable nets.

Eyemark’s effort to package “Dave’s World” with “Touched,” coupled with the $1 million-per-episode asking price, is said to have stymied the sale of the latter show to interested basic cablers like Lifetime Television, TNT and USA Network.

Speculation that a deal between Paxson and Eyemark had been finalized was fueled Tuesday by a news release from Paxson trumpeting plans to announce details of its new network at a Nov. 18 “media event” staged in the company’s home base of West Palm Beach, Fla.

Sources familiar with the Eyemark-Paxson deal say Paxson was willing to meet Eyemark’s steep asking price for “Touched” to secure exclusive broadcast rights to the show.

In the past two years, reruns of sought-after network dramas, such as “The X-Files” and “ER,” have been sold to broadcast TV stations and basic cable nets simultaneously.

Seth Grossman, Paxson’s VP of corporate development, would not comment on rumors regarding the “Touched” deal, but he did confirm that Paxson is planning to launch “a national program service.”

Paxson, which has bought stations in New York and other major markets in recent months, intends to buy others over the next year, Grossman said. The company will seek “affiliation agreements” with other TV outlets to clear the netlet in the rest of the country.

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