NEW YORK — HBO has sold 138 separate standup-comedy specials in a five-year deal to Comedy Central for a license fee of between $10 million and $15 million. Comedy Central would have the specs in an exclusive basic cable window.
Specials, which ran on HBO’s schedule over the past nine years, include high-rated one-shots, ranging in length from 30 minutes to 90 minutes, featuring Chris Rock, Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Bill Maher and Ellen DeGeneres.
The deal is consistent with HBO’s strategy of harvesting big bucks by peddling reruns of some of its most popular shows to basic cable and TV syndication. HBO smacked its first home run last year when it chalked up more than $100 million from the sale of “Sex & the City” to TBS and to TV stations owned by Tribune Broadcasting and other station groups.
HBO is now also pitching “The Sopranos” to cable and syndication after grossing more than $150 million from DVD sale of the episodes. And by ponying up $6.5 million, History Channel recently paid more for reruns of HBO’s 10-hour “Band of Brothers” miniseries than for any other program since History began nine years ago.
Kathryn Mitchell, senior VP of programming for Comedy Central, said the network will begin running some of the HBO specials right away. The biggest ones, like “Chris Rock: Bigger & Blacker,” will get showcase Sunday-night slots on Comedy Central, she said.
The ones starring younger, lesser-known comics will show up in the network’s four-hour block of standup comedy every Friday at 8 p.m. under the umbrella titles “Premium Blend” and “Comedy Central Presents.”
Comedy Central will get windows of exclusivity for the specials during which they can’t run on the main HBO channel. But the exclusivity doesn’t apply to HBO Comedy, the multiplex channel.
Mitchell said that some of the more salacious jokes may have to be edited out, and four-letter words will get bleeped when the specials appear on Comedy Central. “But HBO knows that we’ll treat these shows with respect,” she said. “We won’t butcher them.”