NEW YORK — Talk about dark horses: Bravo has outbid TNT, USA and A&E, among others, for the cable-network rights to Warner Bros.’ hit series “The West Wing,” forking over a record $1.2 million per episode.
No one in the industry predicted that Bravo, an arts- and culture-oriented net, would climb into the big-bucks arena with such aggressive rivals and emerge the victor. But one source said a key to the deal was Bravo’s convincing NBC to throw out its prohibition on any primetime play of the “West Wing” reruns. Since NBC owns 26% of Bravo parent Rainbow Media Holdings, NBC agreed to waive the no-primetime clause, which had proved a deal-breaker for many of the other cable-network bidders.
The $1.2 million-an-hour pricetag for “West Wing” exceeds the $1.15 million TBS paid to get each half-hour of “Seinfeld” in its second cycle and the $800,000 or so an hour TNT ended up paying for “ER” three years ago. (Warner Bros. put a license fee of $1.2 million on “ER” but allowed TNT to keep the advertising revenue from the weekend play of “ER” on TV stations in off-net syndication. That revenue will come to about $400,000 an hour, which TNT will subtract from the $1.2 million.)
While declining to comment on contractual details, Bravo exec VP and G.M. Ed Carroll said, “I view ‘West Wing’ as a great springboard to pull new viewers to the network and help to promote our original series like ‘Inside the Actors Studio,’ ‘The Awful Truth’ and ‘Bravo Profiles.’ ”
Carroll said he’s hoping “West Wing” will do for Bravo what “Law & Order” did for A&E, serving as a promotional platform for A&E’s firstrun series as well as chalking up big Nielsens at 7 and 11 p.m. every weekday. Bravo hasn’t decided on a time period yet for “West Wing.”
“West Wing” will become part of a new Bravo showcase called “The Art of Television,” which kicks off in fall 2002 with reruns of Columbia TriStar TV’s “The Larry Sanders Show.” Bravo bought “Sanders” last year after the series finished its five-year run on HBO.
Bravo’s affiliate-sales force plans to use the purchase of “West Wing” as a sales pitch to get cable operators who haven’t yet picked up the network to reconsider. Bravo is in 52 million households, having gained 8 million subs in the last year. But the network still is well short of the 80 million that have access to the most widely cleared networks, including TBS, Discovery and ESPN.