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The Reality Is Off-Net Is Thinning

With it getting harder and harder to launch a bona fide scripted hit on network prime time because of time taken by reality shows, the off-net business is getting tougher. There's not much material in the pipeline for the future.

Syndicators are launching six off-net shows in 2003: sitcoms King of Queens from Sony and Paramount's Becker and The Parkers, as well as Twentieth's Angel and Warner Bros.' The West Wing, also premiering on NBC-owned Bravo, the only one-hour off-net launches. Sony also is launching Ripley's Believe It or Not, a half-hour strip, off of its run on cable network TBS.

While hit sitcoms are always a hot property, particularly for non-traditional station affiliates that love to fill their access time slots with ever-repeating comedies to lead into their prime times, weekly hours have become less attractive. They don't repeat well, and much of TV stations' weekend business has gone over to cable.

King of Queens, starring comedian Kevin James, is the biggest sitcom launch this year. The show has performed solidly as CBS's Monday night anchor.

"This show has great time periods, great stations and a great spread of broadcasters who have bought it across the board, including the Fox, Tribune and Viacom stations," says John Weiser, executive vice president of Sony Pictures Television.

Sony also has been successful marketing promotional tie-ins with King of Queens, something the syndicator hasn't done with any of its other shows, Weiser says. King is involved with spots for Pastry Swirls, Days Inn and Hungry Man Dinners.

Separate of syndication, this fall CBS is moving King of Queens to Wednesdays at 9 p.m., a move that many see as risky, and could affect the syndication platform if the show's originals fall out of favor with viewers. King of Queens will lead out of the very old-skewing 60 Minutes and into Becker, a show that has a loyal, but small following. In syndication, King of Queens is cleared in 98% of the country, while Becker is cleared in 91%.

Becker barely made it back on CBS's schedule this fall, with the network picking up only 13 episodes of the Ted Danson comedy instead of the usual 22.

The Parkers, cleared in 85%-90% of the U.S., also will get a cable run on Viacom-owned BET, one of Paramount's sister companies. Angel is cleared in 96% of the U.S. and The West Wing in 95%. Ripley's is cleared in nearly 92% of the U.S., and is getting double-runs on many stations.

With fewer scripted hits on the networks, the flow from network to syndication is little more than a trickle. But each studio has its set of shows headed to syndication in the next few years. Twentieth has Fox's Malcolm in the Middle and CBS's Yes, Dear in 2004 and Fox's Bernie Mac and The WB's Reba in 2005. Coming off-net hours from Twentieth include Fox's Boston Public in 2004 and Fox's 24 in 2005.

Buena Vista is launching ABC's My Wife and Kids, starring Damon Wayans, in 2005, with 85% of the country already sold. Buena Vista also is selling ABC's Alias for 2005, but sales on that show just started. Buena Vista has scheduled ABC's According to Jim and NBC's Scrubs, produced by Disney-owned Touchstone, for 2006, and ABC's 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter for 2007.

Warner Bros. is hoping to bring HBO's Sex and the City to syndication in 2004, although no deal has yet been done. The studio also has The WB's Smallville and ABC's George Lopez in 2005. The WB's Everwood, CBS's Without a Trace, NBC's Good Morning, Miami, The WB's Jamie Kennedy and The WB's What I Like About You are slated for 2006, assuming all those shows stay on their networks long enough to get to syndication.

King World is launching CBS's mega-hit CSI: Crime Scene Investigation next September and the show already is cleared in 91% of the country. Many of those clearances are on CBS-owned stations and affiliates, where it will run at 11:30 p.m. and challenge NBC's Saturday Night Live.