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Sex and Syndication

The Tribune Broadcasting station group landed syndication rights to HBO hit Sex and the City from the pay service and distributor Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution last week, and TBS Superstation is closing on cable off-net rights, insiders say.

The half-hour comedy will run as a six-day-per-week strip starting in fall 2005 on Tribune's 26 stations and WGN Superstation cable network.

Warner Bros. is said close to a deal with corporate cousin TBS Superstation. Oxygen has also been interested in the show. Sex and the City could fit nicely with TBS's fringe acquired-comedy block. But insiders said the Turner deal had been slowed by Tribune's insistence that its WGN Superstation cable net be included in its own deal and was not a lock.

HBO and Warner Bros. have been shopping Sex and the City for more than a year. At one time, HBO was pitching it to broadcast networks, reportedly seeking up to $3 million per episode, but all four major broadcast networks balked.

HBO and Warner Bros. executives crow that the show could be as big a hit in syndication as network shows like Friends and Seinfeld.

"This is a show that will be new and fresh to two-thirds of viewers," said HBO President of Domestic Television Distribution Scott Carlin.

Sex and the City is in its sixth and final season on HBO. Although a few HBO shows, such as Tales From the Crypt and The Larry Sanders Show, have been sold off the pay channel for a second run, Sex and the City is the first high-profile HBO show to go into the syndication market.

In the end, Tribune was the only bidder. Financial details were not disclosed, but the four-year pact includes cash and an advertising-barter component. With Tribune, Sex is cleared in about 40% of the country, so other deals with smaller groups are likely. Tribune stations will likely run the show in prime access or late-night fringe. Tribune has rights to air Sex twice daily.

The language and content have been edited, and, in some cases, alternate scenes were substituted (with an eye to the future, HBO has been shooting two versions of racier scenes).

To accommodate commercials, the syndicated episodes have been trimmed to 21½ minutes from about 27 on HBO.

Additional reporting by Paige Albiniak