Malcolm launches into syndication

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

But Twentieth took pains to set up an arms-length bidding process in
an effort to avoid 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 when station executives
gathered in Los Angeles to submit their bids.

The process drew three bidders: Fox, Viacom Inc. and Tribune Broadcasting. The Fox and
Viacom stations made individual market bids for the show, while Tribune made a
group bid, according to Twentieth president Bob Cook.

Cook called the bidding "aggressive" on the part of all three station groups, but
he declined to discuss specific bids.

Sources said Tribune bid the show as an early fringe vehicle, while Fox put
up access dollars for it. Sources said the Fox group agreed to pay between
$800,000 and $900,000 per episode for all 10 markets and around $110,000 per week for
both New York (WNYW/WWOR) and Los Angeles (KTTV/KCOP).

The other stations and markets getting the show were WFLD-TV
Chicago; WTXF-TV Philadelphia; WFXT-TV Boston; KDFW/KDFI Dallas; WTTG/WDCA
Washington, D.C.; WAGA-TV Atlanta; KRIV/KTXH Houston; and KDVR-TV Denver. The 10 markets cover 30
percent of U.S. TV households.

Malcolm 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 now being sold for 2003-04 ( K of Q already had been cleared
in 71 percent of the United States, while Becker is more than 50 percent
sold). Malcolm debuts in 2004.

With all three shows now in the market, you can imagine the pitching
and counterpitching going on.

Cook argued that Malcolm is the most demographically balanced of the
three shows, with a "bonus" of hard to reach teens.

Competitors said 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. They likened it to The Wonder Years, which fizzled pretty quickly in syndication.

Bill Carroll, programming vice president at Katz Media
Group, dismissed all of the cross-talk. He urged all nontraditional affiliates
to give the show a good hard look.

"It's got solid credentials, and I put it in the same league as The
or Married with Children," he said. "I consider it one of the most sought after shows for