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$300 mil for NBC’s ‘Will’

Laffer is Peacock's fourth most-expensive skein

In a blockbuster deal valued at more than $300 million, NBC has locked up Thursday hit “Will & Grace” for three more seasons.

Peacock will pay its own NBC Studios a license fee of roughly $4 million per episode to keep the laffer on the air through May 2005 — the show’s seventh season. Net now pays a bit under $1 million per episode for the show.

Deal makes “Will” the Peacock’s fourth most-expensive series, behind only “ER” (about $8 million), “Friends” ($6 million) and “Frasier” ($5.2 million)

While negotiations between NBC and NBC Studios would seem to be a cakewalk — given that Peacock West Coast topper Scott Sassa oversees both — talks extended for many weeks and involved real bargaining. That’s because profit participants such as series exec producers David Kohan, Max Mutchnick and James Burrows could easily sue if they felt net and studio made a sweetheart deal.

Figures hard to pin down

Industry insiders differed a bit on the exact figures connected to the deal, with estimates ranging from a low of $3.8 million per episode to well over $4 million in the out years of the pact. Pinning down an exact figure is also hard because of complexities such as deficit recoupment and performances bonuses, not to mention the vagaries of future production costs.

Net and studio both declined comment on coin.

“I’m thrilled ‘Will & Grace’ will be back for three more years,” said NBC Studios chief Ted Harbert. “It’s a great deal that benefits the studio and the profit participants. I’m very pleased with the way NBC handled the negotiations.”

NBC Entertainment chief Jeff Zucker was similarly upbeat about the renewal.

” ‘Will & Grace’ has been the biggest comedy hit of the last four years,” he said. “And in this year when it’s faced intense competition, it remains the second highest-rated comedy (in demographics). The show is just hitting its stride.”

So far this season, “Will” is averaging a 9.1 rating/22 share among adults 18-49 and 17.3 million viewers. While it remains very strong for NBC, CBS has made inroads with “CSI,” which now regularly beats the laffer in viewers and essentially matches it in demos.

However, with “Friends” signing off next season, locking in “Will & Grace” gives the Peacock a much-needed sitcom security blanket for three more years.

Skein stars Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally. In 2000, skein won the Emmy for best comedy.

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