NATPE: 10/90 Sitcom Model Could Be Coming to Broadcast Nets

Miami – One of the next efforts in the TV community’s quest for the next great program — and next great partnership behind it — could be one of the Big Four trying out the 10/90 sitcom model.

Speaking on a NATPE panel Monday moderated by B&C contributing editor Paige Albiniak, Debmar-Mercury copresident Ira Bernstein said “we think a broadcast network could be a buyer for” the company’s upcoming comedy series starring Kevin James.

Debmar-Mercury has done eight 10/90 deals, Bernstein said. They started the template with the Tyler Perry-led sitcoms on TBS and continued with partnerships with FX on projects starring Charlie Sheen and the upcoming comedies starring George Lopez and the team of Martin Lawrence and Kelsey Grammer. Next up is James’ show. The basics of the 10/90 template calls for a 10-episode test, that in success based on agreed upon benchmarks, triggers an additional 90-episode order for a total of 100.

It’s a model that has “been embraced by a lot of different buyers,” Bernstein said. Although a writer and concept for the James project are still to come, Bernstein said the company already has had a lot of conversations about it.

“All the broadcast networks are looking at doing things a little differently,” Bernstein said, noting Fox Chairman Kevin Reilly’s comments at TCA that earlier this month that he intends for Fox to bypass the traditional pilot season.

A bit different sort of test run - that of firstrun strips, primarily held during summer months - has become common practice in recent seasons. In addition to Bernstein, the panel featured David Bank, managing director, global media equity research analyst, RBC Capital Markets; Hilary Estey McLoughlin, president, creative affairs, CBS Television Distribution; Steven Walsh, executive VP, local market television, Rentrak; and Sean Compton, president, programming and entertainment, Tribune Company. The panel agreed tests, in some form, are part of the new fabric in the current age of the industry.

The practice is “here to stay,” Estey McLoughlin said. But some big-name talent won’t do tests, she said, which means a certain kind of show will typically be tested.

Indeed, not everything will be tested, said Compton, though he sees value in them. Tribune has been testing the talk show Serch in partnership with CTD this month. He said he prefers testing in January, as viewing habits are a better gauge than the summer months, when most tests will compete with reruns. What’s more, tests are not scored simply on the overall number for a station group and performance versus last year, Compton said. He’ll look at what the quarter hour looks like, whether the show looks good and whether the talent looks good on camera.

The panel also echoed what Albiniak reported in her cover story this week: Expect more, innovative partnerships among studios and station groups in this new era of increasingly consolidated local TV owners. The panel agreed that when a station group has equity they’re both literally and figuratively more invested in the success of the show and will put more energy, better time periods and heavier promotion into it. “It’s like the difference between buying and leasing a car,” Compton said.

Added Bank: “From the Wall Street perspective, everybody is forced to invest more in content. We don’t just want you to rent the content, we want to back the guys who own the content and back them for the long run.”