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Malcolm may have the edge

7/22/2001 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Even before snagging nine Emmy nominations, Twentieth's Malcolm in the Middle
was headed for the top of its off-net sitcom class. Slated probably for 2003 or 2004 syndication launch, it's one of just a few sitcoms left to grab. The current hit comedies—Everybody Loves Raymond, Will & Grace, That '70s Show—have already sold. And TV insiders are questioning whether CBS ratings-grabbers King of Queens
and Becker
will be edgy enough for non-traditional stations.

Most other shows in the 2003 and 2004 pipeline are one-hour dramas, many having already sold to cable outlets (for instance, West Wing
to Bravo and CSI
to TNN). Repeats of some popular hours—Dawson's Creek, Felicity, Ed—are still up for grabs, but stations historically rack up better numbers with half-hour comedies. Current off-net top dog Friends
should launch its second cycle in 2004 but could lose ground to a fresher Malcolm.

Tribune station group will "definitely take a good hard look" at Malcolm, says chief programmer Marc Schacher, "because there are so few really good sitcoms breaking through to the A-level these days." And Twentieth President Bob Cook, noting that Malcolm's content matches well with that of Married With Children, one of the longest-running sitcoms in syndication, believes "Malcolm
is going to have wild success."

Serious selling action won't rev up until the economy turns around, he says, but he expects Malcolm
to net top dollar nevertheless. He's "absolutely" going out to stations beyond Twentieth's distribution partner, the Fox O&Os, to get the best possible pricing. Twentieth's Keith Samples, assigned to the studio's Malcolm
efforts, is "taking a look at the bids as they come in," says Cook.

Besides Tribune, Viacom-owned UPN outlets are also likely to be in the mix for Malcolm.

Some TV observers are betting on Everybody Loves Raymond
or Will & Grace
to end the off-net syndication slump. But Malcolm
could leap ahead of them, says one station rep, "because it has a non-traditional feel."


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