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Dealing With a 'Modern Family'

Twentieth sitcom sale to Fox shows waiting is passé 11/01/2010 12:01:00 AM Eastern

With Fox Television Stations’
purchase of Modern Family,
Twentieth Television’s Emmy-winning
sitcom is already on track to
become one of syndication’s biggest
grossers of all time.

The sitcom suddenly found itself on
the broadcast market on Thursday, Oct.
15, when Tribune made a preemptive
bid for the show that neared $600,000
per week, sources say. Twentieth immediately
took the ABC hit to the marketplace,
and its own sister station group
responded.

The Fox stations increased the price,
brushing against the $600,000 ceiling,
and also agreed to a lengthy 11-year term for the show.
Tribune wasn’t willing to agree to that lengthy a term, and
bowed out.

That left Fox the winner of the two biggest sitcoms
available for the foreseeable future: Modern Family and
Warner Bros.’ The Big Bang Theory, which Fox purchased
for $500,000-plus per week in May, according to sources.

By the time Twentieth completes all of its broadcast
deals for Modern Family, the show is expected to bring
in about $850,000 per week, putting it on par with The
Big Bang Theory
and Warner Bros.’ Two and a Half Men.
Last spring, Twentieth also secured a $1.4 million-plus
per-episode deal for Modern Family with NBC Universal’s
USA Network, which also occurred because NBCU made
preemptive offers for—and won—both Modern Family and
Fox’s hit musical Glee.

In addition, Twentieth secured 2 minutes of barter advertising
time in each episode of Modern Family, with stations
keeping 5½ minutes.

Patience No Longer a Virtue

While both Big Bang and Modern Family are bringing in
big bucks, the quick sale of Family represents a new era in
TV syndication deal-making: if a buyer is interested in a
show, they had better make their deal quickly.

“It speaks to how strong last year’s TV
season was, and also to how buyers realize
that they have to step up and get the
best shows,” says Chuck Larsen, president
of October Moon Television. “The
only reason you would wait is because
you want to make sure that there will be
a strippable number of episodes. If you
have a show that is strong as Modern Family
or Glee, you can safely buy it and know
that you will have enough episodes.”

It also means that for the biggest
shows, syndicators may no longer have
time to methodically plot their strategies,
as Warner Bros. did with Two and
a Half Men
and Big Bang. Other shows
that opened big in 2009 and had obvious
homes on cable—CBS’ NCIS: Los Angeles and Fox’s
The Cleveland Show—were sold long before the start of the
traditional syndication sales cycle.

Says one syndicator: “It really shows how the scarcity of
high-quality programming is driving the market.”

Speaking of scarcity, this primetime TV season has not
produced anything nearing the buzz of Glee or ModernFamily, but Warner Bros.’ Mike & Molly is meeting relatively
high expectations, and CBS’ $@#! My Dad Says is
holding its own so far. Both shows have been picked up
for the full season and could have decent shots at getting
into syndication.

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