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‘Reba’ gets once in a Lifetime bid

Cabler recently bought 'Providence,' 'Frasier'

NEW YORK — Twentieth TV has sold reruns of “Reba” to Lifetime for more than $300,000 an episode, making it the most lucrative sitcom ever to come off the WB.

The winning bid for “Reba” — which Twentieth also pitched to TBS, ABC Family, WE: Women’s Entertainment, Hallmark Channel and Oxygen Media — signals that Lifetime is looking to ramp up its schedule with repeats of proven off-network shows.

Lifetime recently bought “Providence” (for stripping immediately) and “Frasier” (for 2006). An earlier deal will bring “Will & Grace” to Lifetime next year.

“Reba” will be exclusive to Lifetime only in the cable window; Twentieth has begun marketing “Reba” in off-network to TV stations, which won’t pay cash license fees but will instead hand over five 30-second spots to the distributor for sale to national advertisers.

Even though Lifetime is paying cash for “Reba,” the network will also give Twentieth the five national 30s. The difference is that Lifetime’s contract runs for five years, whereas the stations get only two years.

Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of Twentieth TV, declined to discuss dollar figures but said that if “Reba” pulls in viewers when it kicks off in the fall of 2006 on TV stations, he’ll go back to extend their two-year deals for an additional year or more.

The fact that Twentieth couldn’t get cash from stations for “Reba” is a strong sign that the syndication marketplace is still sluggish for anything but a must-have sitcom.