FX’s Shield Heading for Syndication

Another edgy cable drama featuring a killer as its protagonist is heading for syndication, namely FX’s award-wining The Shield.

Sources confirmed Thursday that Sony Pictures Television, which distributes The Shield, is planning to pitch the off-network run of the show to cable outlets. Officials at Sony declined to comment.

The move comes on the heels of Home Box Office’s record-breaking deal earlier this month to sell The Sopranos to A&E Network for $2.5 million per episode, a $190 million sale. With the market so hot for gritty cable programming, Sony reportedly thinks the time is right to find a buyer for The Shield.

The fourth season of The Shield, about a corrupt elite unit in the Los Angeles Police Department, debuts March 15.

The show, which helped to put FX on the map, has won star Michael Chiklis an Emmy Award for his portrayal of a cop whose track record includes killing a fellow officer -- a lead character who, like Tony Soprano, is a murderer.

This season, Glenn Close is joining the cast of the show, which often pushes the envelope in terms of its violence and sexual content. Last season, one episode of the show included a top male police officer being forced to perform oral sex on a villain.

Including this new season, there are 54 episodes of The Shield to sell, and Sony would have 67 installments if FX wants the program for a fifth season.

A&E will run an edited version of The Sopranos. In the case of The Shield,there is alternative footage that is used when the show is sold to the international market, sources said. But at this point, there are no plans for the show to be edited for domestic syndication, since it currently runs ads.

Initially, FX had some trouble finding sponsors for The Shield, and early on in the show’s run, some skittish advertisers pulled out due to its controversial content. But the program succeeded in attracting sponsors.

Last season, The Shield’sthird, its ratings slumped. Part of the reason why Close is being brought in is to attract more female viewers.