Bravo wins West Wing rights

Signaling that its masters are taking programming much more seriously than ever before, Bravo agreed to shell out huge bucks to air off-net episodes of NBC's hit drama series starting in fall 2003.

Sources indicate it went for $1.2 million an episode, what Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution was reportedly first asking for from several interested outlets. Rival bidders included USA Network, Turner Networks, A&E and Court TV. Bravo has the exclusive weekday cable rights to all off-net episodes produced through 2009, Warner keeps the weekend broadcast syndication rights.

This is by far Bravo's heftiest, highest-profile acquisition to date - it's last major series purchase were the off-cable episodes of The Larry Sanders Show, for a reported $225,000 an episode. That's a much weaker property despite its cult following.

"Obviously when you're talking about a top 20 hit off NBC, you're going to bring viewers to the network," said Bravo GM Ed Carroll. The network plans to strip the series but won't pick a time slot for a while.

Sources say that the $1.2 million price tag matches with that fetched from Turner Networks for the cable run of ER, which was considered a sky-high amount at the time. Also, E.R.'s show package was bundled with weekend episodes (later sold into syndication by Warner's Telepictures unit). Bravo's West Wing package didn't include that option, with Warner Bros. still on the hunt to sell a weekend run of it into syndication, having just started that process. Ratings on E.R. were terrible and the show had been an expensive weight on TNT's schedule.

Selling action for The West Wing heated up last month, with speculation that certain outlets, including A&E, wanted a run of the series as early next season, aiming to air it concurrently with NBC's primetime broadcast (similar to Once & Again's dual run on ABC and Lifetime. - Susanne Ault