‘King’ to reign over Fox Channels Group

Sitcom brings in more than $300 mil in syndication

Twentieth TV has engineered a first-ever deal for the cable-TV rights to the animated sitcom “King of the Hill,” selling it not to a specific network but to the Fox Channels Group in general.

Sources said that either FX or the Fox Family Channel will end up getting “Hill,” which will become available in September 2004 on a four-year license term. A spokeswoman for Twentieth confirmed the deal but would not comment on the details. A spokesman for Fox Channels Group declined to discuss the pact.

Separate from the cable deal, “Hill” is on its way to harvesting well over $300 million in off-net syndication, with each half-hour episode fetching about $3 million in cash license fees. Over the past three years, Twentieth has pre-sold “Hill” to TV stations — including the ones owned by Fox — throughout the U.S. for a fall 2001 start date.

The Fox Channels Group will share the window with the TV stations when FX or Fox Family comes in during the fourth year of the syndication deal. Based on previous fourth-year cable deals for sitcoms such as Warner Bros./NBC’s “Will & Grace,” Twentieth should chalk up an additional license fee from cable of $350,000- $450,000 a half-hour.

Ads add $100 mil

Fox Channels has also agreed to let Twentieth hold back three 30-second spots from each run of “Hill” for sale to national advertisers. The distributor also keeps three 30s in each run in syndication — a lucrative concession by TV stations that could add another $100 million to the eventual domestic gross of the series.

Twentieth rushed “Hill” into the syndication marketplace in late 1997 after it racked up big Nielsen primetime ratings in the Sundays at 8:30 time period behind “The Simpsons.” After Twentieth had completed the bulk of its major-market deals, the Fox Network moved “Hill” to Tuesday at 8 in 1998-’99, and the series fell off in the ratings. The show recovered somewhat when Fox moved it back to Sunday — although at 7:30, not 8:30 — for the current season.

The creators of “Hill” are Mike Judge (“Beavis & Butt-head”) and Greg Daniels (one of the writers on “The Simpsons”).

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