‘Dharma’ finds niche

Sitcom to be aired on WE, FX in fall '05

NEW YORK — “Dharma & Greg” has found a right fit at WE: Women’s Entertainment starting in fall 2005, when it may be among the most-aired sitcoms on television.

Already running multiple times a week on TV stations throughout the country, the 119 half-hours of “Dharma” will also be shown on WE — which will be able to play it multiple times after 5 p.m. every day — and the FX cable network, which will strip it in the early afternoon.

Pre-buy beginnings

All of this sharing of “Dharma” began innocently enough. FX parent Fox Cable engineered a pre-buy of the laffer four years ago, when it was a successful show on ABC, ponying up more than $400,000 a half-hour and reserving the right to play it either on FX or Fox Family Channel.

But the show’s ratings softened on ABC, causing the network to cancel it after the 2000-01 season. When “Dharma” premiered in syndication in fall 2002, the mass audience had lost interest in it; in 156 markets, the show managed only a 1.9 household rating and 5 share in the November 2002 sweeps, down by 5% from the same time period the year before.

“Dharma” has continued to decline in rerun syndication, managing only a 1.4 household rating in the May 2004 sweeps in 163 markets. Over the 2½ years, the show’s women 18-34 rating has slipped from a 1.2 to a 1.0; among women 18 to 49, the rating has dropped even more, from a 1.1 to a 0.9.

When Fox parent News Corp. sold Fox Family Channel to Disney three years ago, FX was stuck with a show that didn’t fit its network profile. FX welcomed Twentieth TV’s victory in getting WE to buy a shared window; WE’s undisclosed license fee will get subtracted from the $400,000-an-episode FX deal.

WE bought “Dharma” as part of a contract for exclusive rerun rights to another Twentieth show, “Boston Public,” also for four years. “Boston Public,” a David E. Kelley-produced hourlong drama set in an urban high school, began on the Fox Network in October 2002 and collected 81 episodes during its three-year run; WE gets the show this fall.

Unlike many other rerun hours, Twentieth will not sell the series to TV stations for simultaneous play on the weekends.

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