LAS VEGAS — Mort Marcus’ big gamble — that “South Park” will find avid TV-station buyers in rerun syndication despite the gleeful profanity spouted by the most famous third-graders in pop culture — appears to be paying off big time.
Marcus said that in the last two months, his distribution company Debmar Studios has quietly sold syndication rights to stations in more than 40% of the country, including eight of the top 10 markets, led by four Viacom-owned outlets — KCAL Los Angeles, WPSG Philadelphia, WSBK Boston and KBHK San Francisco — and by WICU Chicago.
Marcus has filled his calendar with meetings at this week’s NATPE convention; at the sales pace he and his partner Ira Bernstein are setting, Marcus said he’ll easily gross more than $100 million from a combination of license fees and advertising revenues harvested from the three 30-second spots Debmar will hold back for national sale.
That payday would make “South Park” the second biggest-grossing off-cable series ever, behind only HBO’s “Sex & the City,” which landed deals last September with TBS in basic cable and the Tribune Stations in syndication. Those deals vaulted the HBO comedy to well over $100 million, with lots more dollars to come as it clears additional stations around the country.
“South Park” is still Comedy Central’s highest-rated series after completing 111 half-hours over seven seasons. Web has renewed the series for two more 15-episode seasons through 2005.
Marcus said Debmar will remove about 15 of the episodes from syndication because the raunchiness is so rampant throughout the half-hour “they can’t be fixed.” The company will edit the rest to meet the slightly tougher standards imposed by broadcast TV.
Stations have signed four-year deals to get “South Park” for stripping in September 2005, agreeing to an additional year if Comedy Central continues ordering new episodes beyond the next two seasons.
By 2005, Marcus said, standards may have loosened enough for stations to play “South Park” not only post-11 p.m. but at 7 and 7:30 p.m., like Twentieth TV’s “The Simpsons.”
Marcus, a syndication veteran, has previously held such high-visibility posts in the industry as president of Miramax TV and Video, president of Buena Vista TV and president of Quintex Entertainment.