While FX prepares to debut its fifth season of plastic surgery series Nip/Tuck Oct. 30, the old episodes are lying untouched on the bargaining table. After about nine to 12 months of trying to sell reruns of the show to other basic cable networks, Warner Bros., the studio that financed and produced the slick drama, hasn’t yet found a buyer.
The show has helped define the FX brand and has been an iconic hit for cable overall. It would seem a logical fit with networks such as Bravo, E! and Oxygen, which program similar fare (Real Housewives of Orange County, Dr. 90210, The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency, respectively) and sources say the studio has approached more than 15 networks. But no deal has materialized and the series is still waiting to be sold.
Sources, including potential buyers, say the show was originally priced too high—at about $1 million per episode, far outside the budgets of smaller cable networks—but people close to the studio say that Warner Bros. initially offered the show at about $450,000 an episode and hasn’t come down from that.
Advertising—or the potential lack of it—is probably the biggest potential stumbling block. Other cable networks are well aware that although the show tops its competitors in the key 18-49 demo and as such is attractive to certain clusters of advertisers, like consumer electronics, FX has always had trouble selling certain big-budget advertisers on the notoriously racy series.
Known for its graphic depictions of plastic surgery operations and the sexual escapades of its plastically beautiful characters, Nip/Tuck has faced ire from watchdog groups like the Parents Television Council, which inundated advertisers with letters urging them to pull out of the show. And in the past, advertisers including Cingular Wireless, Gateway and Ben & Jerry’s have pulled spots from the show.
Also a potential stumbling block: Nip is fairly serialized and, as a cable series, has fewer episodes produced per season than a broadcast series; other cable networks might want to wait until there are enough episodes for them to run the series without burning it out. Indeed Lost, an ultimate serialized show on broadcast’s ABC, has also taken time to find a buyer.
One cable network president interested in Nip said that cable operators have voiced objections, saying they don’t see upside in one basic-cable network programming a series from another. He says they say it’s of little value for their subscribers to get the same programming on one cable network that they can already get on another.
Calls to several cable operators on this matter went unreturned. And while Nip undeniably has been a brand-defining hit for FX, several syndication chiefs at other cable networks dismissed the theory that operators would shun it on another cable network as hogwash. Said one, “Cable operators don’t expect us to be 100% original. None of us could really become that because it’s too high-risk and expensive an endeavor.”
And sources close to the studio, known for being aggressive in selling its shows, say even some broadcast networks have expressed interest in airing Nip.
While the show’s reruns could end up staying with FX if the network decides to put up the money for that, both it and Warner Bros. would like for Nip to sell elsewhere, in part to prove that there’s a successful back-end business for cable originals on other domestic cable networks.
Sony sold FX’s The Shield last year to Spike for a reported low- to mid-six figures an episode, and Warner Bros. is also getting ready to sell TNT’s breakout hit The Closer.