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Oldies But Goodies From A Sturdy Survivor

As president of domestic television distribution for Carsey-Werner, Jim Kraus doesn't have to worry about developing new first-run shows. His product line is composed solely of off-net sitcoms such as That '70s Show, The CosbyShow, Roseanne and Third Rock from the Sun. So he spends much of his time figuring out how to generate the most revenue from shows produced by Carsey-Werner, one of the studios that has remained independent as the huge media conglomerates have gobbled up content producers.

“What we have here at Carsey-Werner is a small but very powerful and very valuable off-net comedy library,” says Kraus. “Our job is to make sure that we continue to sell these hit shows throughout the industry.”

Station managers are inundated with sales calls from competitors far bigger than Carsey-Werner, selling hot commodities such as Friends,Everybody Loves Raymond, Malcolm in the Middle and Seinfeld.

In that used car lot, some of Carsey-Werner's vehicles look nearly ancient.

So Kraus spends a lot of time sharing ratings data that demonstrates older shows still have plenty of ratings horsepower. And he also has to remind his customers that some of his studio's more recent shows are thriving as well.

“We have to make sure the reality of our performance matches up to the perception,” he says. “That '70s Show is a perfect example of this. In syndication, we have had many people who say to us, 'I knew the show was doing well. I didn't realize it was doing that well.'”

In its third year of syndication, Kraus says the show has a loyal audience among 18-49s, as well as teenagers, making it the fourth-highest-rated sitcom in syndication.

He has also gotten mileage from some of the shows dating back to Carsey-Werner's golden years, establishing a strictly barter product dubbed The Comedy Block. Stations can pick from Roseanne, The Cosby Show and A Different World, airing the shows in one-hour blocks. This strategy has paid off: The Cosby Show episodes are in 125 markets in their fifth syndication cycle. Roseanne, which is shown in more than 100 markets, is in its fourth cycle.

Kraus, 52, has only been with Carsey-Warner for about five years, a relatively short tenure compared to peers with bigger syndications who can measure their time with studios by the decade.

He holds an MBA from Pepperdine University and a BA in psychology from Hobart College in Geneva, N.Y.

His television career began in 1977 at MGM Television, where he managed TV and film sales in 13 western states. In 1980, he moved to Telepictures, where he sold first-run syndicated programming. He eventually became a sales executive for MCA/Universal. Carsey-Werner hired him in 1999, naming him to his current post in 2003.

His four-person sales team is so small that he is under tremendous pressure to spend time with as many clients as possible during this month's three-day NATPE meeting. There simply aren't enough days in the year for Kraus and his crew to visit their customers as frequently as they would allow.

“At NATPE, we see a lot of people that we may not get around to seeing more than once a year.”