Malcolm in 10 markets

Twentieth Television began its off-network sales campaign for Malcolm in the Middle last week, opening 10 of the top markets simultaneously. The co-owned Fox stations got the show in all 10.

But Twentieth took pains to set up an arm's-length bidding process in an effort to prevent future lawsuits from its production partner on the show, Regency Television. (Fox had been down that road before in an ugly legal confrontation with Steven Bochco over the syndication of NYPD Blue.) Regency even had two representatives present last week when station execs gathered in Los Angeles to submit bids.

The process drew three bidders. Fox and Viacom made individual market bids; Tribune made a group bid, according to Twentieth Television President Bob Cook.

Cook called the bidding "aggressive" but declined to discuss specific bids. Sources say Tribune bid the show as an early-fringe vehicle, while Fox put up access dollars. The Fox group reportedly agreed to pay $800,000 to $900,000 per episode for all 10 markets, with about $110,000 per week going to New York (WNYW[TV]/WWOR[TV]) and to Los Angeles (KTTV[TV]/ KCOP[TV]).

Also getting the show: WFLD-TV Chicago, WTXF-TV Philadelphia, WFXT-TV Boston, KDFW(TV)/KDFI(TV) Dallas, WTTG(TV)/WDCA(TV) Washington, WAGA-TV Atlanta, KRIV(TV)/KTXH(TV) Houston and KDVR-TV Denver.

is one of only three key off-network sitcoms coming to the market after 2002-03 for several seasons. Becker
and King of Queens
are being sold for '03-'04 (by last week, King
had been cleared in 71% of the U.S., Becker
more than 50%). Malcolm
debuts in '04.

Cook considers Malcolm
the most demographically balanced of the three, with a "bonus" of hard-to-reach teens. Competitors say that "bonus" won't mean much by the time the show gets to off-net and the fickle teen audience finds the next new thing.

Bill Carroll, Katz Media Group programming vice president, urges all non-traditional affiliates to give the show a good, hard look. "It's got solid credentials, and I put it in the same league as The Simpsons
or Married With Children."