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Lifetime shares ‘Susan’

Lifetime grabs cable rights to WB's 'Susan'

CYNTHIA LITTLETON

NEW YORK — Lifetime has sewn up the cable rights to reruns of Warner Bros.’ “Suddenly Susan,” marking the first time the channel has ever agreed to share a window for a sitcom with TV stations in off-network syndication.

Spokesmen for Lifetime and Warner Bros. Domestic Pay TV, Cable & Network Features declined to comment, but other sources say Lifetime will pony up about $250,000 an episode and get “Susan” in the fall of 2003, the fourth year of its syndication run.

The cabler still has to get the approval of its board before it formally completes the deal, but one source says Lifetime is not anticipating any snags.

Warner Bros. wrapped up the Lifetime deal 24 hours after the studio sold the off-network rights of “Susan” to Tribune Broadcasting for about $600,000 an episode in a deal that includes simultaneous telecasts on Trib’s national cable superstation WGN (Daily Variety, June 9).

A number of off-network sitcoms are making the rounds of the syndication marketplace, but so far “Spin City” is the only newcomer other than “Suddenly Susan” that’s landing major market station group deals.

‘Caroline’ closing in

Sources say Eyemark is making progress on “Caroline in the City,” with Lifetime also interested in doing a “Caroline” deal similar to the one for “Susan” — namely a shared window with TV stations in the fourth year of the syndication cycle.

The complications in the “Susan” deal could spill over into “Caroline.” WGN insisted on getting the full satellite feed of “Susan” from day one, making the show available to all 44 million households that get the station through their cable systems.

Warners was of two minds in agreeing to WGN’s satellite demands. The distributor was reluctant to make the satellite concession because TV stations in markets where the local cable system pulls in WGN always demand lower license fees because of the shared window.

Spotting an advantage

But Warners is holding back three 30-second spots within each “Susan” half-hour, so that the more widely WGN gets circulated through satellite distribution, the more money Warners rakes in from national advertisers.

Because of the Lifetime deal, however, WGN, in the fall of 2003, will pull “Susan” off the satellite and run the series only in Chicago. Lifetime will in effect become the national cable distributor of “Susan,” with one significant exception: Instead of having to surrender the three 30-second spots to Warner Bros., Lifetime gets to keep all of the advertising time in each episode.

By contrast, the TV stations, including WGN, will have to continue running the three :30s throughout the life of the first cycle.

For cable subscribers who pick up WGN outside greater Chicago, the station will replace “Susan” in year four with another half-hour series from its library.

One of the major annoyances to TV stations over sharing “Susan” beginning in year four with Lifetime is that the network gives two minutes of commercial time to each cable system for local sale.

The result of that handover is that in a given market, the TV station and the cable system will each be pitching the same local advertisers to buy time in “Susan,” allowing ad buyers to play one medium against the other as a device to drive down prices.

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