Scott Anderson is training for the big leagues of cable syndication. As Hallmark Channel's vice president of acquisitions, he has been buying up second cable runs for tested off-nets like M*A*S*H
and JAG. His next step, according to network plans, will be negotiating for the first window straight off a broadcast network.
"I want to be a top-10, top five channel," says Anderson, 32, who has been with Hallmark since 1998, when it was the Odyssey Channel. "Part of the evolution going forward is going after big series."
The Colorado State University grad has spent much of his career buying programming for Hallmark. Before joining the domestic channel, Anderson worked for Hallmark's international channels and had previously negotiated acquisitions for corporate parent Crown Media through his own firm.
At the U.S. network, Anderson is charged with procuring all the non-Hallmark product. In the past year, he and President of Entertainment David Kenin have sought out tested, older shows that could help attract a crowd to low-rated Hallmark.
Anderson went to Turner Entertainment Networks' acquisitions chief Jonathan Katz to see what Turner had on its shelves that would fit Hallmark's family-friendly brand. He came out sublicensing Matlock
and Little House on the Prairie. In a separate deal, the channel picked up M*A*S*H,
which had been earning respectable numbers on FX. And, when USA was looking to partner with another channel for its new JAG
deal, which kicks in in 2005, Hallmark pounced on the prime time rights; USA gets the non-prime airings.
In his pursuit of acquisitions, Anderson is dogged. He is open to making creative deals to get the right show on his channel. "Just because a sold is already sold," he says, "doesn't mean you can't do a deal around it." That was the case with the Turner shows.
Explaining his buying strategy, Anderson says, "We've looked for high-rated shows, things with built-in audiences and stories that are self-contained." As a result, in the past year, Hallmark's ratings have climbed from a 0.4 or 0.5 average rating in prime to a respectable 0.7 or 0.8.
One off-net show he wishes he had? The WB's 7th Heaven. Then-Fox Family Channel bought the off-net rights, and the show currently garners solid ratings for ABC Family. At the time the show was in the market, Hallmark did not have the size or financial strength to make a play.
Hallmark now reaches 55 million homes and Anderson hopes, someday soon, to land a big first-run show. "We take every pitch, we're open, and we will look to get into the first-run game."