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Fremantle Awards Family Feud to Debmar-Mercury

Debmar-Mercury has acquired the distribution rights to the 30-year-old game show Family Feud from FremantleMedia North America. That leaves Tribune Entertainment Co. (TEC), which handled station distribution and national barter sales, without its biggest syndicated property.

The new multi-year distribution deal for the latest incarnation of Feud, now in its seventh season in syndication, appears intended to improve time periods for the game show and gives the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Debmar-Mercury four Monday-Friday strips.

Others are Tyler Perry’s House of Payne (a first-run comedy debuting on TBS next year and broadcast syndication in fall 2008), off-cable reruns of South Park and a variety of VH1 reality series reruns, including the Surreal Life, packaged under one umbrella for fall 2007. Additionally, it distributes a number of weekly shows, as well as film packages from Revolution Studios and Lionsgate.

Debmar-Mercury will acquire distribution and ad sales rights to Feud,  which averaged a 2.8 GAA household rating last season, starting in Fall 2007.  TEC will handle both areas until that time. Debmar-Mercury principals Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein, whose firm was acquired by Lionsgate earlier this year after it achieved its status as the most prolific independent distributor, have already begun informing stations.

TEC executives could not be reached at press time to comment on the loss of the strip from Fremantle, which also has Tribune handle American Idol Rewind in weekly syndication.

The company, part of the troubled Tribune media empire that is on the sales block and whose future is uncertain, holds distribution rights to more than 15 series, as well as specials and DreamWorks movie packages.

“Tribune did a good job over the past several years but we thought it was time for a change,” said David Shall, executive VP of business operations and general counsel for Fremantle.

Just who will handle barter sales for Feud, which has been appearing on network daytime, syndication or both since 1976 with various hosts, will be decided in coming weeks, according to Marcus.

A number of major distributors have been vying for Debmar-Mercury’s business. The total barter value of the properties up for grabs, including House of Payne and weekly The Dead Zone in addition to Feud, is estimated at $50 million. A decision about whether to keep them under one roof or spread them around is expected soon.

Their new relationship with Fremantle (American Idol) could provide Debmar-Mercury with a leg up in acquiring other properties for distribution, including the extensive Goodson-Todman library of game shows. Fremantle currently lacks an on-going relationship with a domestic distributor.

With Feud, Marcus said Debmar-Mercury gains a strip for two dayparts—daytime and early fringe—where it was formerly not represented.

Bernstein attributed Fremantle’s choice of distributor to its track record of selling well-established brands like Feud, saying. “No game show in syndication has ever worked that did not have a network pedigree.”