Arsenio ReturnChanges Laughing Matters

'Mike & Molly,' '2 Broke Girls' sales also help shift off-network sitcom market

Arsenio Hall is back in late-night syndication, and the broadcast market for offnetwork sitcoms just got a little bit tighter.

That became immediately clear last week thanks to Warner Bros.’ sale of Mike & Molly and 2 Broke Girls to the CBS Television Stations and Weigel Broadcasting— the latter for a record $1.7 million per episode. For the first time in years, neither Tribune nor Fox figured in either deal, even though both groups turned in offers for both shows. Tribune and Fox both own major stations in the country’s top three markets, making them traditionally the first sitcom-sales stop.

But CBS’ purchase last December of WLNY New York, formerly an independent, has suddenly turned that group—which now has duopolies in New York, Los Angeles and several other markets—into a sitcom buyer.

And the acquisition couldn’t have come soon enough for syndicators. Tribune will be working with Hall, which makes that group less dependent on offnet sitcoms for now. Fox is full up with two expensive off-net buys, Warner Bros.’ The Big Bang Theory and Twentieth’s Modern Family.

While it’s always better to sell a show than to be forced to keep it on the shelf, WLNY is a very lowrated station. Under CBS ownership, however, the station’s ratings should rise, making a big difference when it comes to the barter advertising sales that contribute a large portion to syndicated shows’ revenue. Still, a sale to Tribune’s WPIX or Fox’s WNYW/WWOR in New York would have immediately assured Warner Bros. of strong advertising in both shows.

The wild card in all of this remains Debmar-Mercury’s Anger Management, which stars Charlie Sheen and premieres next week on FX in a 10-episode test. The first two episodes of the show, which will air June 28, do not count in the ratings guarantee it has to clear in order for FX to pick it up for the remaining 90, but the producers have enough confidence in the production that they have already started on season two, according to reports. And now that neither Tribune nor Fox has acquired Mike & Molly or 2 Broke Girls, they both have room for Anger Management. The show still has to pass its initial ratings test on FX, however.

While CTD’s deal with Tribune to launch a new late-night show starring Hall came together quickly after CTD’s John Nogawski and Tribune’s Sean Compton had a meeting at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas last April and realized they had aligned agendas, it was actually a deal that was four years in the making.

Compton had been considering bringing Hall back since he first arrived at Tribune four years ago. He went so far as to set up a meeting with Hall and entertainment lawyer Scott Zolke of Loeb & Loeb, but the process didn’t go further than that. Two years later they met again, with no real conclusion. But by the time Compton and Nogawski talked in Vegas, the timing was right. Tribune wanted to move further into the firstrun business and have more ownership in the shows it airs, while CTD had no sitcoms to sell and wanted to be able to lay claim to more latenight time slots.

“Arsenio was the Johnny Carson to the baby boomers’ kids,” says Compton, who will clear out such off-net sitcoms as Friends, Seinfeld, 30 Rock and According to Jim to make room for Hall’s revival.

“Arsenio is already a household name, and he knows how to get in front of the camera immediately and do this,” says Nogawski, who says CTD’s research indicates that the market would welcome Hall back with open arms. “Arsenio had a substantial following with his previous late-night show, and that same 18-34 audience is now right in the middle of the late-night core audience of 35-54.”

With the Tribune, CBS and Local TV stations already signed, Hall is cleared in more than half the country in two-year deals. There will be nine-anda- half minutes of local advertising inventory in each one-hour episode, and five-and-a-half minutes of national advertising.

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