Tribune beefs up comedy in 2006 with Belushi hit
By Paige Albiniak -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/21/2004 7:00:00 PM
Call it an all-male comedy dream team. Jim Belushi is joining Ray Romano and Damon Wayans on Tribune in 2006, continuing the rush of off-net comedy buying by big station groups.
With King World's Everybody Loves Raymond on many of Tribune's stations until at least 2008—and longer, in many cases—the acquisition of According to Jim strengthens Tribune's arsenal.
"Looking at what we have, this seems to be a show that will fit nicely into those blocks and be fresh in 2006," says Mark Schacher, Tribune vice president of programming. In addition to Jim and My Wife and Kids, both produced by Touchstone Television, Tribune also has acquired HBO's Sex and the City for late fringe, starting in fall 2005.
Tribune nabbed Jim at a time when Fox's acquisition of Everybody Loves Raymond and Seinfeld in second and third cycles in several markets is making news. Prices for these shows is holding firm, an indication that there is a dearth of top-quality off-net sitcoms. (They normally get cheaper as they age.) If According to Jim performs well, Tribune's move plays out as smart. And the choice has much to recommend it.
Jim is winning a tough Tuesday 9 p.m. time slot on ABC, routinely beating NBC's Frasier, the first half-hour of Fox's 24, and UPN's America's Next Top Model in adults 18-49. This year, it has improved the time period for ABC by 15% among total viewers and 15% among adults 18-49, ABC's best performance there in three years. And ABC doesn't have much to brag about.
The Tribune stations signing on are WPIX New York, KTLA Los Angeles, WGN Chicago, WPHL Philadelphia, WLVI Boston, KDAF Dallas, WATL Atlanta, and KHWB Houston. The deal is cash-plus-barter, with stations getting 51/2 minutes of ad time to sell and the syndicator keeping 11/2 minutes. Besides According to Jim, Everybody Loves Raymond, and My Wife and Kids, Tribune also has Sony's Seinfeld and Sony's King of Queens in some markets, male-skewing shows that match-up well with Jim.
Once According to Jim is sold nationwide, it is expected to pull in more than $2 million per episode in cash license fees, according to industry estimates. A respectable sum, if not record- breaking. The show also will get a cable run starting in 2009, but that has yet to be sold. Although Buena Vista parent Disney also owns cable-net ABC Family, Buena Vista plans to sell According to Jim to the highest bidder in the open cable market.
"I think two things have happened," says John Byran, Buena Vista's executive vice president of sales, reflecting on Jim. "The first is we took over the anchor spot at 9 p.m. and we delivered for the network. The second is that, while men have been leaving prime time, this show has been doing fantastically in the male demographics."
The network hopes the boys come back before 2006. And Tribune is betting that, in syndication, they'll still be watching Jim.
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