‘Home’ shopping

TBS, USA, FX bid for sitcom's cable window

NEW YORK– Buena Vista TV’s “Home Improvement” reruns have solicited bids from TBS, USA and FX in the neighborhood of $87.5 million for the basic cable window of the series.

Sources say the winning cable bidder could be selected by Wednesday. The series has also begun harvesting bids from TV stations in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

These bids are for the second cycle of “Home Improvement,” which becomes available either in September 2002 or in the fall of 2003, depending on when the ABC series ends its original run.

‘Home’ history

The first “Home Improvement” cycle began more than three years ago with an exclusive seven-year window in TV syndication. No cable networks were brought in for the first cycle.

Spokesmen for Buena Vista, TBS, USA and FX all declined comment.

The cable network that gets the series will have to share the window with TV stations in rerun syndication. The numbers experts calculate the $87.5 million figure by multiplying the expected $500,000-an-episode license fee by the 175 episodes that Wind Dancer, the production company, in association with Touchstone TV, will have completed by the end of the 1998-99 season.

One surprise in Buena Vista’s presentation is that its parent Walt Disney Co. is holding out an option for “Home Improvement” to come back one more year beyond the 1998-99 season, which all the parties to the series have previously said would be its last. The show still performs in the Nielsens, however, and if ABC’s 1998-99 sitcom development doesn’t yield any hits by, say, November, the network might well beg the star of “Home Improvement” to sign for the 1999-2000 season.

TBS’ sitcom frenzy

TBS is trying to corner the cable market in rerun sitcoms, having locked up the rights to such series as “Friends,” “The Drew Carey Show,” “Roseanne,” “The Cosby Show” and “Fresh Prince.”

Industry experts are also predicting that TBS has the inside track on the second cycle of “Seinfeld” because the show’s production company, Castle Rock, is TBS’ sister company. Both are owned by Time Warner.

But other sources say USA and FX plan to bid aggressively for “Seinfeld,” and the distribution company, CTTD (Columbia TriStar TV Distribution), sharing no corporate ties to TBS, plans to sell it to the highest bidder. One source says the cable network bidding for “Seinfeld,” which could climb to as high as $150 million, or about $1 million an episode, begins next month.

CTTD has already cleared a number of TV stations for the second cycle of “Seinfeld” at staggering prices, keeping the series on target to pile up an eventual $1.5 billion in the two rerun cycles, making it the highest-grossing series in television history.

“Home Improvement” is also expected to shoot beyond $1 billion after its second cycle comes to an end, although the show received a slight setback when, according to sources, the Fox-owned TV stations that now strip the series decided not to make a group bid for the second cycle.

The Fox O&Os are bursting with sitcom product, most of them having bought “King of the Hill,” “The Simpsons,” “The Drew Carey Show” and “3rd Rock From the Sun.” Fox stations are also aggressively going after for the second cycle of “Seinfeld,” even though they passed on the show’s first cycle.

USA’s interest in “Home Improvement” stems from the big Nielsens it garnered a few years ago with reruns of the sitcom “Wings.” Rupert Murdoch’s FX network, pushing hard to get beyond its current 32 million subscriber base (compared to 73 million for TBS and 70 million for USA), is buying rerun series like “The X-Files,” “NYPD Blue,” “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “MASH.”