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‘Office,’ ‘Earl’ land at TBS

Shows find home for reruns

Michael Scott and the gang at Dunder Mifflin may soon be getting raises.

NBC Universal’s syndication wing has orchestrated an unusual deal to sell the rerun rights to the Peacock’s Emmy-winning comedy “The Office” to TBS in cable and to 10 Fox O&O stations in a shared-window deal valued at more than $130 million. At the same time, TBS has also picked up the rerun rights to “The Office”‘s NBC skedmate “My Name Is Earl,” from Twentieth TV.

Thee pact for “Office” is notable for giving TBS an early window on running repeats of the show twice a week in primetime starting this fall, a full two years before the Monday-Friday strip-rerun rights kick in for both TBS and the Fox O&Os in fall 2009. The granting of that early-syndie window to TBS on “The Office” is a first for a comedy series, though it happens often in syndie deals for dramas, including Lifetime with Disney’s “Desperate Housewives” and TNT with NBC U’s “Las Vegas.”

The “Office” repeats to air on TBS this fall will come from the show’s first three seasons, not current ones from the 2007-08 season, the show’s fourth on NBC. TBS’ deal for “Earl” does not include an early repeat window before its fall-2009 debut as an off-net strip.

Pickups of “Office” and “Earl” solidify TBS’ bench of off-net comedies for the foreseeable future. It’s likely that TBS will pair the two offbeat single-camera half-hours in 2009 just as viewers have become accustomed to watching them as a pair on NBC, though that changes this fall when “The Office” moves to the 9-p.m. anchor slot, while “Earl” remains at 8.

” ‘Earl’ and ‘Office’ may be the last of the big-money sitcom deals until 2011, or later,” said Steve Koonin, president of the Turner Entertainment Networks.

The parties declined to discuss dollar figures, but TBS will pony up about $650,000 an episode for “Office” and slightly less than that for “Earl.” The 10 Fox stations will collectively fork over about $300,000 a half-hour for “Office.”

The “Office” pickup by the Fox stations came as no surprise because Tribune, Fox’s main station-group rival, had bought rerun rights to the last two high-visibility sitcoms, “Two and a Half Men” and “Family Guy.” The 10 Fox stations include its Fox Network outlets in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington and Dallas. One of the Fox-station buyers of “The Office,” WUTB Baltimore, is a My Network TV outlet.

Bob Cook, president of Twentieth TV, said he’s holding back from selling “Earl” to TV stations until the end of the year because Tribune wants to wait until it gets some Nielsen numbers on its most recent sitcom purchases, CBS’ “Two and a Half Men” and Fox’s “Family Guy,” whose reruns kick off in September. If one of the two falters, Twentieth figures that Tribune will get into the bidding for “Earl.”

TBS boasted in its “Office” announcement that it will get other rights beyond broadcast beginning the fall ’09, including broadband streaming, TBS on demand and wireless. TBS’ sister network TNT engineered similar rights to reruns of NBC U’s “Las Vegas” in a pre-buy more than a year ago.

For “The Office,” TBS and the stations get five-year license terms to 130- or-more half-hours. Lead thesp Steve Carell has committed to six years of the series even though his movie career has taken off; he’s a profit participant in the series.

In the case of both “Office” and “Earl,” the distributors will hold back three 30-second spots within each run on TBS and on the stations for sale to national advertisers.

Bill Carroll, VP of programming for Katz TV, which represents hundreds of TV stations, said broadcasters will have to painfully absorb that fact that a cable network has locked up simultaneous windows for two of the most anticipated sitcoms in the marketplace. In the past, TBS had to wait four years before getting “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Friends” and other sitcom repeats.

The new arrangement could make “The Office” and “Earl” less attractive to some station buyers; for NBC U, it was likely a risk worth taking: The distrib gets a rich deal out of TBS and the added bonus of extra “Office” exposure on TBS’ solidly performing primetime sitcom platform, which could help juice the show’s numbers on the Peacock in the coming season.

Indeed, “The Office,” a remake of the British series of same name, started slowly on NBC in 2005 but gained steam after NBC U made segs available for download on Apple’s iTunes platform. Series is executive produced by newly appointed NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman, along with writer-producer Greg Daniels, who developed the U.S. adaptation; Brit creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant; and Howard Klein.

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