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Big bucks in ‘Funniest’ syndication

Show rides current reality wave to the bank

“You can’t kill it with a stick” was how then-ABC Entertainment topper Ted Harbert described what he thought would be the half-life of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

But at the time, way back at the beginning of the series on the Alphabet in 1990, and way before the current wave of reality formats was to hit American shores, he was one of a select few.

Most folks in Hollywood couldn’t envision much rerun value in a bunch of silly clips, even if the originals had done quite well on the network.

Because it was before the repeal of the so-called fin-syn rule, ABC and Di Bona interviewed some 23 indie syndicators to test the appetite for the series in domestic distribution and, as it turned out, they settled on MTM.

Chuck Larsen, who is today a consultant and producer’s rep for a number of top show creators including Di Bona, was the guy in charge of syndication at MTM then.

“There were a lot of naysayers at the time because it was a newfangled reality show, and nothing like that had been done before in syndication,” Larsen recalls.

He and his team licensed the first cycle of episodes to major indie station outlets around the country, including WNYW in New York, KCAL in L.A. and WPWR in Chicago.

The domestic rerun rights, which eventually reverted to Disney/ABC as well as Di Bona and the show, is now one of those ubiquitous mainstays: It’s currently airing in various packages on Nick at Night, ABC Family and WGN as well as on local indies around the country.

During the 15 years the show has been in repeats, it has likely raked in upward of $300 million to $350 million, two unrelated syndie sources estimate.

On the foreign front, too, “America’s Funniest Home Videos” has been a quiet but consistent performer.

Disney’s international sales team, based out of London under Tom Tomazis, has now placed the show in 87 territories, selling two distinct clip packages to local broadcasters. They, in turn, can tweak the footage by adding in their own local clips and a local host, though not all of them do so.

One of the biggest international success stories from the territories that have used the “AFV” format is in Germany, where RTL airs “Upps: Die Superpanneshow,” which usually wins its time period in weekend primetime slots. Its popularity led to a DVD release of clips in that territory.

The show also airs on ITV in the U.K. on Saturdays, where “You’ve Been Framed” regularly attracts several million viewers.

“A lot of folks have tried to rip the idea off over the years, but these imitators tend to fall by the wayside,” one analyst says. “There’s something masterful about how Di Bona puts it all together: It’s all in how they’re edited, what the sound effects are, how he packages and groups the sequences, not to mention the excellent host.”

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