In a groundbreaking deal that industry sources value at upwards of $200 million between cash from cable and stations, as well as cumulative barter advertising sales, Debmar-Mercury has secured distribution deals to put the first-run syndicated sitcom Tyler Perry’s House of Payne on TBS in June 2007. It will then go to stations—led by the Fox-owned outlets in New York, Dallas, Houston and Washington, D.C.—in September 2008.
After a recent successful 10-station test, Debmar-Mercury, now a subsidiary of the independent entertainment company Lionsgate, announced agreements Wednesday that bypass Hollywood’s traditional output system for comedies.
Debmar-Mercury co-president Mort Marcus predicts there will be more such deals that enable producers to get around the vertically integrated studios.
“It’s pretty amazing when you think about the fact that the marketplace, based on a test, is able to generate this deal,” Marcus said. “Until now, sitcoms have gone to a network…and then six years later there were 100 episodes to sell in syndication.”
He added, “This is very cool because it usurps the five major companies that control every aspect of the pipeline. Until now, if you were talent or a profit participant, you were shut out of ownership. We have found a way around that. Tyler Perry owns all the rights and we distribute it.”
The deal is also unusual in that cable, rather than broadcast stations, get the episodes first. TBS will have exclusive access to them for the first 15 months, airing them once or twice a week in prime time.
In previous off-network and first-run sitcom deals, stations have had first dibs on properties, but TBS is understood to have anted up a large portion of the license fees in exchange for the exclusivity and other rights, including new media, associated with the show.
Perry is beginning production on the episodes now and is expected to deliver nearly 75 episodes to TBS by fall 2007, with the remaining 25 due in time for the syndication launch the following year, when they will air in a variety of early fringe, access and late fringe dayparts.
TBS will continue to air the episodes when the four-year deals, which also include Weigel’s WCIU Chicago, kick in the following year on a strip-basis. Fox will air the series on WWOR New York, KTXH Houston, KDFI-TV Dallas and WDCA Washington.
Another test of a Perry series, expected to be based on his theatrical play Meet the Browns, could take place in 2007 or ’08, according to Marcus. While the plans haven’t been finalized, Marcus said if they wait to December 2008, it would likely be a 10-day replacement test on some stations similar to the one for House of Payne.
Debmar-Mercury co-president Ira Bernstein said, “This proves that independent producers and distributors have a viable alternative to create and distribute entertainment properties successfully and profitably."
The series is the first television outing for Perry (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea’s Family Reunion) and expands his feature film relationship with Lionsgate.
Perry serves as director, producer, executive producer and writer, which will provide him with a large ownership stake in the series, about a multi-generational family living under one roof. It stars Allen Payne.
"For a creator, you couldn't ask for a better opportunity," Perry said. "With TBS and Fox committed to 100 episodes of my series, I can concentrate on telling great stories and producing the best series possible."
TBS executives welcomed the deal. "Tyler Perry has proven himself to be not only an extremely talented individual, but along with distributor Debmar-Mercury, is also helping usher the industry into a new era with innovative distribution models," said Ken Schwab, senior vice president of programming for TBS and sister network TNT. "We had phenomenal success with our test run of (House of Payne) on WTBS in the Atlanta market, and we're thrilled to be able to extend that success into an exclusive national run of new episodes on TBS."
Fox also weighed in. “Congratulations to Tyler Perry and Debmar-Mercury for thinking outside the box on this one,” said Frank Cicha, senior VP of programming for Fox Television Stations.
"This monumental and unprecedented deal is another building block to extending the Tyler Perry brand in all media," noted a statement from the WilliamMorris Agency's Mark Itkin and Charles King, who represent Perry and structured the deal. Perry is also represented by Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, Fischer, Gilbert-Lurie, Stiffelman, Cook, Johnson, Lande & Wolf.