Not HBO, it's ABC

Broadcast-network executives have been vowing to change the way they do business. Some deals last week suggest they mean it.

ABC, the willing-to-try-anything network in its bid to climb out of the Nielsen ratings netherworld, struck a first-look development and financing deal with HBO, producer of such hits as Sex and the City, Six Feet Under and The Sopranos.
Then, ABC agreed to air repeats of a cable original, USA hit Monk, coincidentally produced by ABC sister company Buena Vista Television (technically, a Mandeville Films production in association with Buena Vista).

Also last week, NBC struck a new first-look and financing alliance with DreamWorks Television. DreamWorks' alliance with ABC expired earlier this year.

For now, the Monk deal is essentially a test: The hit drama will air on ABC at 9 p.m. Tuesday nights, following its Friday-night airing on USA, for four weeks beginning Aug. 13 (Mole II ended last week in that time period). ABC, which developed Monk and retained some rights to the show, is ponying up roughly $300,000 per episode, considerably less than the tab for an original broadcast show. (And while cable-to-broadcast repurposing is unusual, later this month, NBC also will replay a week's worth of Court TV's Forensic Files).

Under the ABC-HBO, the pay net's in-house production unit will create original series and, possibly, made-for-TV movies for the broadcast network, which is investing in the HBO unit and will cover start-up costs for new shows. The network gets first look at all projects and retains distribution rights. (HBO earlier developed Everybody Loves Raymond for CBS.)

In the DreamWorks-NBC deal, the network will get a first look at all future DreamWorks TV projects and provide financing for the shows it decides to go forward with in return for a majority ownership stake in those shows.