Syndie access, late-fringe fill up

CBS stations nab '2 Broke Girls,' 'Mike & Molly'; Arsenio to Tribune

Latenight is the new daytime, with syndicators last week rushing to close several deals that will shape both late-fringe and access time periods for years to come. And more deals are coming down the pike.

CBS Television Distribution and Tribune Broadcasting closed a deal June 19 to return Arsenio Hall to latenight starting in fall 2013, almost 20 years after his first latenight talker ended. A day later, Warner Bros. announced it had concurrently sold “2 Broke Girls” to cabler TBS and both “2 Broke Girls” and “Mike & Molly” to the CBS television stations, including New York and Los Angeles, and to Weigel Broadcasting in Chicago and Milwaukee — with the broadcasting deals covering 35% of the country.

While those shows will likely air in pre-primetime access slots on the broadcast stations, sitcoms are usually double-run in late-fringe as well. The return of Arsenio means there are less late-fringe slots to fill, but the arrival of CBS as a player in the big-bucks sitcom rerun biz — with its recent acquisition of WLNY New York — changes the game.

Big Three network affils typically don’t shell out for sitcoms. And, although “2 Broke Girls” airs on the CBS network in primetime, Eye-owned stations had to compete for the rerun rights with large-market station groups led by Tribune Broadcasting and Fox Television Stations, which have dominated the off-net sitcom marketplace in recent years.

“Warner Bros. has brought CBS into the off-net sitcom world, and created another launch-group buyer for the industry,” says Chuck Larsen, producer’s rep for “2 Broke Girls.”

Over the past month, syndicators have been scrambling and strategizing to secure their place in latenight, with Tribune and CTD racing to get their Arsenio deal done before Warner Bros. sold the two sitcoms.

Meanwhile, Debmar-Mercury has been holding its breath, waiting for the June 28 premiere of “Anger Management” on FX. If that show does well in its 10-episode test, FX will pick up another 90 episodes, and Debmar-Mercury will take it into broadcast syndication.

Acquiring the right off-net sitcoms can make or break cable networks and station groups. Tribune acquired Warner Bros.’ “Two and a Half Men” in 2004 for record prices, but that show’s strong ratings almost singlehandedly kept the Tribune stations afloat during the economic downturn of 2008. Similarly, Warner Bros.’ “The Big Bang Theory” has changed TBS’ fortunes. That show is the top-rated comedy on basic cable, driving TBS to No. 3 among all cable networks among adults 18-49.

Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.