Reptile, reduced

NBC gets 'Godzilla' for $25 mil

NEW YORK — The disappointing box office performance of “Godzilla” threw cold water on the bidding for the network rights to the movie, and NBC ended up grabbing it for only $25 million, a full 28% below the $35 million Columbia TriStar TV Distribution was demanding last week.

Sources say there are escalators to the deal that would add $1.5 million in license fees for every $10 million of domestic gross “Godzilla” chalks up beyond the $125 million mark. But the way the movie is sliding at the box office, NBC may end up not having to pay much beyond the $25 million.

In another concession to NBC, the network will get five runs of “Godzilla” over five years, beginning in February 2001. Typical movie sales give the networks fewer airings over a shorter time frame. Showtime has the pay TV rights based on the output deal it has with TriStar Pictures.

NBC confirmed the purchase, but neither the network nor CTTD would comment on details.

One source says CTTD desperately tried to get a buyer late last week after lowering its initial $35 million figure to $30 million and then to $25 million. CTTD’s strategy was to get a buyer before the disappointing grosses came in from the movie’s second week in the theaters.

NBC stayed in the hunt because, unlike ABC (owned by Walt Disney) and Fox (owned by 20th Century Fox), it doesn’t have a guaranteed flow of theatrical movies from a major-studio sibling. And CBS tends to focus on family-oriented original TV movies, which chalk up strong Nielsens every Sunday coming out of the high-rated “Touched by an Angel.”

In the guidelines CTTD sent to the Big Four broadcast networks and to TBS and USA in the middle of last week, when there was still some hope that “Godzilla” could climb above $200 million in theatrical gross, CTTD was more generous on the escalators, setting the bar at $150 million before the 15% escalators would kick in.

When TBS and USA were still negotiating for the first broadcast window of “Godzilla,” distribution sources say that in order to make a profit on the big license fee, the two networks were insisting on a four-year license term with as many as 20 separate runs of the movie.

The “Godzilla” deal reinforces NBC’s aggressive stance as a movie buyer. The network bought “Titanic” from Paramount for $30 million. Since Paramount decided not to build in the usual escalators tied to box office gross, the deal may turn out to be the bargain of the decade for NBC. The network also ponied up $50 million to CTTD for the blockbuster hit “Men in Black,” a price that includes escalators.

All of the networks have begun to sound out Paramount over “Deep Impact,” the first $100 million grosser of 1998, and the highly touted “The Truman Show,” starring Jim Carrey. Two other potential summer biggies, 20th’s “The X-Files” and Touchstone’s “Armageddon,” are presumably already spoken for, based on recent history, with Fox slated to get “X-Files” and ABC “Armageddon.”