‘Sopranos’ nears a syndie high note

Skein's offnet pricetag likely to hit record high

Can the syndicate be syndicated?

The biggest battle at last week’s NATPE was over syndication rights to HBO’s “The Sopranos.” It’s a prestige item for any cabler, but the show comes with a couple of question marks.

Aside from the violence and language — and how carefully must those Bada-Bing scenes be edited for syndication? — there is also a question of numbers. “Sopranos” so far has 78 episodes available, compared to 300 for such long-running staples as the original “Law & Order.”

One of the spinoffs from that show, “L&O: Criminal Intent,” fetched a syndie record $1.92 million per episode from NBC U cablers USA and Bravo last year.

Late last week, TNT and A&E were frontrunners to acquire “The Sopranos,” with a rumored $2 million-plus pricetag per episode. HBO’s initial asking price was $1.8 million per.

HBO is not putting a cap on the number of “Sopranos” segs available. It may be wooing creator David Chase to do another season beyond 2006.

Insiders say at least one cable net dropped out of the bidding because HBO refused to cap the number of episodes sold. The pay cabler’s unwillingness to make the sixth season the final one opens the door to the possibility of a seventh season.