Sci-fi aiming high

USA-owned cabler spends $150 mil for 3 series

In the largest single programming acquisition made by the Sci-Fi Channel in its 5-1/2-year history, the USA Networks Inc.-owned web is laying out about $150 million to snare the exclusive basic cable rights to the MGM Worldwide TV Group hours “The Outer Limits,” “Stargate SG-1” and “Poltergeist: The Legacy.”

Deal creates a third revenue stream for MGM, as well as a TV window for the trio of shows originally created for — and which continue to air on — Show-time. Besides the pay window, all three shows are also being sold to syndication.

Acquisition of “Outer Limits” and “Stargate” covers 132 episodes of each show, with “Outer Limits” becoming available in September 1999 and “Stargate” in September 2002. Meanwhile, “Poltergeist: The Legacy,” which is being dropped by Showtime after this season, will now be produced by MGM exclusively for Sci-Fi Channel, with a fourth season of 22 new segs going before the cameras later this year (bringing the total episode count to 88).

New “Poltergeist” installments will air on the channel in primetime beginning in January 1999. “Outer Limits” and “Stargate” will run as Monday-through-Friday strips.

The USA Networks pact does not affect MGM’s existing arrangement with Showtime, which three weeks ago re-upped their longterm, multiseries programming agreement through 2003 (Daily Variety, March 10).

That deal doubled Showtime’s commitment to the first-year “Stargate” from 44 to 88 episodes and to “Outer Limits,” now in its fourth year on paycable, to two additional seasons and a total of 122 installments (with an option for 10 additional segs).

A “historic” deal

John ymes, prexy of MGM Worldwide TV Group, told Daily Variety on Monday that this was a “historic” deal from the USA Networks perspective and “validates an effective programming model that we established in 1995 to introduce programs on Showtime, take them to syndication and hope eventually for a third window. With Sci-Fi, we now have that window.”

The sale adds further juice to MGM chairman Frank Mancuso’s overhaul of the studio’s revitalized TV division. It also continues the push into original and more high-profile offnet programming for the Sci-Fi Channel, which has ordered a 13-episode anthology series entitled “Betaville” and a new season of “Sliders” (formerly on Fox). Both shows premiere in June. Cabler has also reportedly greenlighted the Jim Henson Prods. sci-fi series “Space Chase.”

“These programs really do represent the framing of the future of this network,” Rod Perth, prexy of entertainment for USA Networks, said on Monday. “We need Monday-through-Friday shows, so this kind of programming is essential.”