Half Off for Sitcom

Warner Bros. failed to pull off the unprecedented payday that it had hoped for with the sale of its off-network sitcom Two and a Half Men.

Cable networks declined a deal in which they would pay a premium to launch the comedy simultaneously with broadcast in fall 2007. (That arrangement would have been an industry first.) Cable-network execs say Warner Bros. have now returned with a more traditional offer: $1.5 million-$2 million per episode for a standard cable launch during the sitcom’s fourth year in broadcast syndication.

Whether Warner Bros’ difficulty stops other comedy suppliers from going for a similar plan could hinge on the intensity of market demand for a particular show. For the moment, though, strong sitcoms are in short supply.

Warner Bros. had wagered that basic-cable networks, which, like USA, have substantially increased their series-acquisition and original-programming budgets in lieu of major film purchases, would be more amenable to paying top price for the chance to get Men at the same time as stations.

But when they didn’t bite, Warner Bros. lost some of the bargaining leverage it hoped to gain with stations. It is in the midst of intense negotiations with Tribune and Fox over Men, and the price that one of them winds up paying in the nation’s largest markets will largely determine what smaller groups will be willing to spend.

A studio spokesman says there is a "great deal of interest" in Men and expects a deal with Fox or Tribune to be announced in the "coming weeks." On the cable side, such networks as TBS, Comedy Central and Nick at Nite are considered to be players for the reruns.