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Fox, FX pony up $15 mil to share piece of ‘Pie’

Pic package seals deal

NEW YORK — The Fox Network and its cable sibling FX have outbid Barry Diller’s USA Networks for first-network window to Universal’s hit theatrical “American Pie.”

What sealed the contract for the winning bidders, sources said, was FX’s willingness to buy four low-end titles to secure the rights to “American Pie,” which has grossed $96.7 million since it opened in theaters eight weeks ago. Spokesmen for Fox, FX and Universal declined to comment.

Fox and FX will end up paying a combined total of about $15 million for “American Pie.” FX will pay only a tiny fraction of that total for the four other pictures: “The Trigger Effect” (1996), with Kyle MacLachlan and Elisabeth Shue; “The Underneath” (1994), directed by Steven Soderbergh; and two movies produced by U for the Starz! pay TV net, “The Twilight Man” and “The Assassination File.”

“Trigger” grossed only $3.6 million in U.S. theaters while “Underneath” managed to eke out only $386,890.

For the Fox Network, cherry-picking a B.O. winner, “American Pie,” and bypassing the lesser titles is consistent with its strategy of buying a limited number of plays of hit movies that it can schedule as special events. Unlike the big three networks, Fox doesn’t set aside a weekly primetime slot for movies.

This summer, Fox also bought “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” (which will go to Fox directly from the theaters, with no pay TV window), “Big Daddy” (a shared window with USA Networks), “The Matrix” (a shared window with TBS) and “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” (also shared with TBS).

However, Fox will not be taking any runs of “The Blair Witch Project,” one source said, despite the fact that FX landed an exclusive network-window deal with the distributor, Artisan Pictures, before the movie took off in the multiplexes.

The Fox Network and FX have five years to share the “Pie” network window, which breaks down as follows: The Fox Network gets 18 months to play the first two runs. Then “Pie” goes to FX for a burst of runs during an 18-month license term. Fox gets the next six months to play one more run, after which “Pie” goes back to FX for a batch of additional runs over the last 18 months of the contract.

FX is delirious about getting “Pie,” even on a shared window, because the network has begun to focus its programming blueprint on shows that appeal to the 18-to-34 demographic, particularly males. For example, in addition to “Blair Witch,” FX has the rights to three MTV-produced movies distributed by Paramount: “Varsity Blues,” “Election” and “Dead Man on Campus.”