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Friends in High Cable Places

NBC bid its farewell to Friends, but the hit sitcom is poised to live on in cable into the next decade -- at a pretty price.

Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution is actively shopping a second cable cycle for Friends to start in 2011. Those close to the negotiations say big cable players, including Nick at Nite, TBS, Oxygen, and Lifetime, are at the table. Some industry execs believe Nick at Nite is the front-runner, but there is no deal yet. Another option: two cable networks sharing the window.
Eric Frankel, Warner Bros. distribution chief, says, “There is extensive interest from several cable networks” but wouldn’t name names.
Given the dearth of hit sitcoms, Warner Bros. will demand a premium for Friends. The asking price could approach $1 million per episode. A price tag that insiders believe is too rich for cable players-even for a certified hit.
A palatable price, one network executive says, “would not be in that universe.” The deal won’t kick off until 2011.
Across cable, channels are on the offensive, gobbling up the good sitcoms. Lifetime recently plunked down $600,000 per episode to buy Frasier from Paramount, even though it doesn’t get the show until 2006.
Both highlight the panic plaguing the syndication market.
Broadcast stations and cable channels need sitcoms to fuel key time slots and drive audiences. But recent seasons have produced few hit comedies. As the broadcast networks dump comedy in favor of reality, less sitcoms are surviving long enough to see syndication.
Faced with such scarcity, buyers are willing to up the ante.