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Perry’s growing ‘Payne’ for TV

'Madea' maker pacts with Debmar-Mercury

Tyler Perry, fresh from a smash opening-week gross of $30.3 million for his Lionsgate movie “Madea’s Family Reunion,” will try to make his mark in TV syndication with 10 episodes of a sitcom called “House of Payne.”

Perry has signed Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein of Debmar-Mercury, one of the most successful independent distributors in the U.S. (“South Park,” the Revolution Studios movie inventory), to clear between eight and 10 TV stations in representative markets for a two-week test of the series this summer.

Stations won’t pay any cash license fees for the 10 half-hours. But Debmar-Mercury will draw up individual station contracts calling for an extensive promotional campaign, both on air and in radio spots, billboards and newspaper ads, among other platforms.

Perry’s goal is to score such strong ratings in the test markets that Debmar-Mercury will broaden the test to get the show into markets reaching 90% or more of the U.S for cash license fees, plus some advertising time in each half-hour run. (Three 30-second spots is the usual carve-out for national syndicators.) The distributor would pitch 32 fresh episodes for next season (instead of the usual 22-24) to be added on to the original 10 for weekly play beginning in September 2007.

Marcus said TV stations that bitch and moan about the dearth of sitcoms coming off the networks should jump at “House of Payne,” which Perry would be willing to keep in production until he accumulates enough episodes for rerun stripping down the road.

Perry does not appear in the sitcom, but instead serves as writer-producer-director. He tapes “House of Payne” on a studio set in Atlanta before a live audience, at a cost that’s high for firstrun syndication, about $500,000 an episode.

Allen Payne stars as a curmudgeonly fire chief, the patriarch of an extended family that includes his wife, son and grandchildren.