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Raleigh looks to keep laughs

In early 1996 after lengthy negotiations with Viacom, Hollywood studio Carsey-Werner got its babies back.

The studio bought back the off-network rights to its top sitcoms, The Cosby Show
and Roseanne
, and thus entered into the syndication business. In May 1996, Carsey-Werner Domestic Distribution opened its doors, providing the sitcom-rich studio with an outlet and sales force in the aftermarket game. Along with Cosby
and Roseanne, Carsey-Werner was preparing to sell Grace Under Fire
and Third Rock From The Sun
for millions in off-net sales. Without its own sales force, the studio stood to lose millions of dollars having to farm the shows out to a rival syndicator.

"Our whole reason for reacquiring the rights to our shows and wanting to get into the distribution business was to be able to control the destiny of all of our projects and to eventually grow the company to a point where we could also distribute other shows that weren't produced by Carsey-Werner," says Tom Werner, who founded the studio with Marcy Carsey in 1980.

Former Carsey-Werner COO Stuart Glickman led the negotiations with Viacom and was also put in charge of starting the studio's syndication unit. Glickman's first move was to hire a veteran executive to run the syndication division. Ironically, his man was former Viacom President Joe Zaleski.

"I had known Joe for some time. Our relationship began in 1985 when he was running Viacom and the planning was taking place regarding the marketing and distribution of the original Cosby Show," explains Glickman, who left Carsey-Werner last summer. "We met, and we were adversaries, and we argued a great deal, and through that process, I really got to see how smart Joe was. We ultimately agreed on a Cosby
marketing plan and became friends from there on out."

Zaleski quickly built up the division, hiring sales executives and putting together marketing and sales plans for a number of Carsey-Werner properties. Under Zaleski, Carsey-Werner Domestic Distribution sold the third off-network cycle of The Cosby Show, a second cycle of Roseanne and of A Different World. The first cycles of Grace Under Fire
and Third Rock From The Sun
were sold on Zaleski's watch, as well. But in the summer of 1999, Zaleski died after a lengthy bout with cancer.

"He was one of those larger-than-life personalities, where stories got told about him that were embellished by the strength of his personality," says Bob Raleigh, who was named Zaleski's successor in September 1999.

Raleigh and Zaleski had known each other from their days at former syndication outlet Worldvision Enterprises, where Raleigh was the division's top sales executive and Zaleski worked as a consultant after his Viacom days.

Now in his second year atop Carsey-Werner's distribution division, Raleigh is continually preaching the strength of off-network sitcoms to any broadcast station executive who will listen to him.

"This is our 20th anniversary as a production entity, and we have a corporate slogan: 'The hits of today and the classics of tomorrow,'" says Raleigh. "We are continuing to focus on the value of our classic hits to the broadcast marketplace. We believe there is an oversupply of first-run time periods, and, if we can reduce that by 20%, we think the quality of first-run programming will come up. So we are making a strong case for the value of our veteran TV shows."

Raleigh has been busy selling current Fox sitcom That '70s Show
into off-network syndication (it's currently sold in more than 93% of the U.S. for a fall 2002 debut) and more cycles of other hits. Roseanne
was just sold in its third cycle to MTV Networks, and Raleigh says plans are already being made on second cycles of Third Rock
and Grace Under Fire. Carsey-Werner also distributes NBC-produced Profiler
in off-network syndication, which will be heading into its third season with stations in the fall.

While the studio is busy preaching the value of off-network offerings, Raleigh is also starting to ramp up the division's first-run efforts. Last year, Carsey-Werner began distributing weekend series Better Homes and Gardens. According to Raleigh, the studio is close to finalizing a deal to distribute another weekend series. And a first-run strip, possibly even a daily talk show, might not be too far off for Raleigh's division.

"Our goal is to take what's not on television and try to make it as big, broad and impactful as possible, as opposed to buying into something that's more niche oriented," says Raleigh. "We saw everything this year, and there was nothing I liked as a potential big strip. So we passed."