Pricey ‘Yard’ sale

Turner, CBS pay $27 mil for Sandler pic

NEW YORK — The sluggish marketplace for theatrical movies on TV has received a jolt of electricity from the Paramount TV Group, which sold TV rights to “The Longest Yard” to Turner’s TBS/TNT and CBS in a shared window for up to $27 million.

Turner and CBS had to move aggressively and buy “Yard” before it opens in theaters (such a purchase is a rare occurrence these days) because other cable networks like USA were eager to get the movie for one big reason: It stars Adam Sandler.

The comic’s movies — even the modest-grossing ones — are catnip for young adult TV viewers. Sandler junkies flock to USA every time the net schedules such pics as “Big Daddy,” “The Waterboy,” “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore.”

Paramount also sold the rights to “Sahara,” the actioner that has grossed $66 million in U.S. theaters, to Turner and ABC for a total license fee that could approach $10 million. A Turner spokeswoman confirmed the TBS/TNT deals for “Yard” and “Sahara” but declined to discuss contractual terms.

Repeat business

The big “Yard” sale mirrors the deals for two previous Sandler hits: Columbia Pictures’ “50 First Dates,” which fetched up to $20 million from USA and the WB, and “Mr. Deeds,” another Col title, which harvested about $20 million from a joint buy by Fox and TBS.

TBS was able to negotiate an extra year — to five total — for its exclusive cable window to “Yard.” It gets the movie in January 2008 for multiple runs over an eight-month period. CBS then picks it up for a one-year broadcast exclusive during which it will have two runs. TBS gets it back for a few years, with CBS coming in for one final run, with the option of handing off that airing to sister net UPN.

Par had the extra flexibility on “Yard” because its pay TV output deal with sister company Showtime calls for a seven-year window between the first pay run (which begins in May 2006) and the second.

For “Sahara,” TNT has bought the usual four-year window, beginning in November 2007. ABC gets a year (starting late in 2008) to air its one run of “Sahara.”

Scott Koondel, exec VP of Paramount TV, brokered the “Yard” and “Sahara” deals for Par, and Jonathan Katz, senior VP of program planning and acquisitions for the Turner Entertainment Group, did the honors for TBS and TNT.

Cablers’ niche

The purchase of “Yard” continues the aggressive posture of TNT and TBS, which are frequent buyers of big-grossing movies. In the last few months, for example, TBS and TNT have jointly locked up cable exclusives for Warner Bros.’ “The Matrix Reloaded,” Columbia’s “Hitch” and Universal’s “Bourne Supremacy.”

The major studios received a glimmer of hope earlier this month when NBC restored its Saturday-night movie showcase for 2005-06 after dropping it this season. Also for 2005-06, ABC canceled its narrowly focused “Wonderful World of Disney” Saturday program for a weekly movie.

For most titles, prices have languished; increased demand for theatricals by ABC and NBC could help drive up pricetags.