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In reality, good times for off-net sitcoms

It's only been about 15 days into Steve Mosko's new gig as president of Columbia TriStar Television Distribution, but the guy does seem to be pushing all the right buttons.

Last week, Mosko trumpeted the news that the studio's off-net episodes of NBC's workplace farce Just Shoot Me have been cleared in 75% of the country (including on stations in the top-20 cities) in a could-be record six-week time frame. The show (102 episodes worth) will launch in syndication over a four-year period starting in 2001.

Making Mosko's job easier, should the predictions of some TV analysts come to pass: the scarcity of off-network comedies within the next few years. Reality series like Millionaire and Survivor, not sitcoms, currently take up a chunk of the networks' schedules.

"It is an absolutely valid statement that there is no marketplace for [Millionaire or Survivor] in repeats. That is not happening," admits Petry TV's Dick Kurlander. "The surprise is gone."

Another exclamation point is that sources are estimating that CTTD will corral $3 million per episode of Just Shoot Me, quite similar to the coin caught in Seinfeld's first syndication cycle.

"We really don't track these things necessarily on the speed of how we do it," notes Mosko, who declines to comment on the exact dollar figures. "But certainly selling the show in six weeks, making deals in the top-20 markets is impressive."

Station add-ons include Tribune's WPHL-TV Philadelphia, Cox-owned KTVU-TV San Francisco and Paramount's KTXA-TV Dallas.

In May, CTTD secured Just Shoot Me on FOX O & O WNYW-TV New York, Tribune-owned KTLA-TV Los Angeles and Newsweb's WPWR-TV Chicago. Pundits estimated per-week episodes in these top three markets to have sold in the $80,000 to $100,000 range.

"Another nice thing is that all the station groups have been involved," says Mosko. "And now that NBC has put [Just Shoot Me] as the lead-in to ER, which is one of its most important series on one of its most important nights, that gave [stations] a vote of confidence in picking up [the off-net run of] Just Shoot Me."

For the week ending July 2, the series (which revolves around star David Spade gawking at fashion models) grabbed a 6.1 rating/10 share-enough to place second at 9:30 p.m. behind the second-half of tough-to-beat Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Overall, Just Shoot Me placed 37th among prime time series.

Kurlander also points out that, as it stands, many comedies in production on the networks are "too niche-oriented and don't have [the] universal appeal" worthy of a syndication run. For instance, the upcoming comedies on both The WB and UPN skew young and ethnic.

Just Shoot Me, being offered at a 5.5/1.5 barter split, will air on stations as a half-hour strip during the week and as a block or half-hour split on weekends.

Shows currently in CTTD's syndication pipeline are CBS' King of Queens and WB's The Steve Harvey Show.