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Tribune’s troubles trip up TV sales

Broadcaster is one of Hollywood's top buyers

Will “Two and a Half Men” and “Family Guy” have to settle for cents on the dollar as a result of Tribune Co.’s bankruptcy filing?

Probably not, but the move by the Chi-based newspaper and TV station owner to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Dec. 8 under the weight of $13 billion in debt only added to the agita in Hollywood at a tumultuous time for the biz.

With 23 big-city TV stations, Tribune Broadcasting is one of two principal buyers (the other being Fox) of Hollywood’s off-network wares in the markets that matter most in syndie sales (Gotham, L.A., Chicago, Philly, etc.). Most of Hollywood’s majors got some ink in Tribune’s 17-page filing, on the list of the company’s top 30 unsecured creditors.

Warner Bros. has the biggest outstanding bill among distribs, with $23.7 million owed. A significant portion of that is for the off-net rights to sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” which has performed well for Tribune’s stations. Number two is Fox’s Twentieth Television, with $8 million hanging, for rerun rights to “Family Guy” and other shows.

Because Tribune is heavily focused on its TV stations as an engine to pull the company out of its rut, it’s likely that the company will bend over backwards, as long as the bankruptcy bosses approve, to pay off its Hollywood suppliers in order to maintain good relations with the majors.

But Tribune’s traumas and the general downturn in local TV ad sales are likely to prompt distribs to postpone some first-run and off-network sales blitzes for 2009.

In reality, Tribune can spend freely on new acquisitions even as it undergoes Chapter 11 restructuring on debts racked up before Dec. 8. But the psychological damage is done. Having one of your best customers land in bankruptcy court is a real buzz-killer.

“You’d have to be crazy to take out an off-network show right now,” said one syndie exec with a sigh.

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