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Hallmark bags ‘JAG’ reruns

Skein bought for $36 mil, may be paired with 'MASH'

NEW YORK — The Hallmark Channel has engineered one of the most aggressive program buys in its history, agreeing to lay out a minimum of $36.2 million for rerun rights to Paramount TV’s “JAG.”

“We really went after ‘JAG,’ ” said Dave Kenin, exec VP of programming for the Hallmark Channel. “It’s a mainstream show with a loyal, established audience, and we might schedule it in combination with ‘MASH,’ which is one of our successful series.”

Kenin wouldn’t discuss license fees, but Hallmark will pony up about $200,000 per episode to get the 181 hours of “JAG” for two runs a day, in primetime and latenight. Contract begins in January 2005 and runs for 7½ years. Hallmark also has agreed to buy any episodes beyond the 181 that constitute the show’s output in its weekly run on CBS through the 2003-04 season.

What makes the deal a potential harbinger of the future is that USA will continue to strip “JAG” in an earlier time period, simultaneous with its Hallmark run. So despite all the talk of vertically integrated synergy, Paramount sold “JAG” not to one or more of its sister cable networks but to the highest bidders, which happened to be USA and Hallmark. When it did the deal back in 1998, USA paid $750,000 an episode for “JAG.” Paramount declined to comment on the deal.

Reruns of “JAG” have performed solidly in the Nielsen ratings since the show kicked off on USA every weeknight at 7 in September 2000. During 2000-01, “JAG” was the highest-rated off-network series in basic cable.

Kenin said Hallmark’s standards-and-practices people will go over each “JAG” episode and edit out any scenes that may prove disturbing to the network’s viewers.