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Family Guy Goes to Tribune

To the surprise of many, Twentieth TV has sold the off-network adult animated sitcom Family Guy to the Tribune station group for a fall 2007 launch.

Tribune is estimated to have paid in the low to mid six figures per episode, said by some to be on par with what Warner Bros. got from Tribune recently for Two and a Half Men. Tribune, Twentieth and Warner Bros. would not comment on price.

The off-Fox series, now in its fifth season on the network, goes to Tribune under a straight four-year deal with no extensions. The initial batch of 96 episodes of Family Guy was widely anticipated to be destined for the Fox station group.

"We set up a very fair and equitable bidding situation and Tribune won," Twentieth President/COO Bob Cook says.

Marc Schacher, VP of programming and development for the Chicago-based station group, notes Tribune has a close relationship with Twentieth, since it owns six Fox affiliates and has three stations now affiliated with Fox’s new MyNetworkTV.

Family Guy will appear twice weekdays and on weekends in access and late fringe time periods, depending on the needs in Tribune’s 20 markets covering nearly 38% of the U.S. Stations get to keep eleven 30-second spots each half hour and the syndicator retains three for national advertisers.

Schacher says it was a "huge priority" for Tribune to acquire at least one of the two sitcoms on the market this year. After losing Everybody Loves Raymond and Seinfeld to Fox in the major markets, and with no other major comedies on the horizon, Tribune stepped up for both.

It will pair Family Guy with The Simpsons in a handful of markets where it airs the show, but the big push will come in teaming it with Men in many top cities. Although the two sitcoms may not seem compatible at first glance, Schacher points out they both appeal strongly to men.

The acquisition allows Tribune to even the playing field somewhat with Fox—though neither sitcom is believed to be in the same price league as Friends, Seinfeld or Raymond, estimated to have grossed more than $2 billion each in their first two syndication cycles.

It also enhances the value of Tribune’s stations at a time when there is internal corporate debate over whether the broadcast division should be split off from the company’s publishing assets.

Had Fox acquired both sitcoms it would have cornered the market on the most popular form of syndicated programming. Additionally, Family Guy, appearing as a companion to The Simpsons, would have provided Fox with off-net momentum as Homer & Co. enter their 18th season on the network.

Industry analysts say such a strategy, while costly for Fox, would have virtually removed Tribune as a significant player and left Fox as the only remaining major sitcom buyer—a dire prospect for syndicators, which until Fox acquired Chris-Craft in 2000 had three major bidders for their programming in the top markets.

"We look forward to the show having a positive impact on ratings and revenues across our group," said John Reardon, president of Tribune Broadcasting.

Along with the veterans The Simpsons and American Dad, Family Guy has helped Fox establish a strong adult animation block on Sunday night.