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South Park Hurries On Out to Syndication

The potty-mouthed kids of Comedy Central's long-running South Park
could hit the broadcast airwaves sometime in 2004 or 2005, now that the cable network has licensed the show's syndication rights to distributor Dembar Studios.

The series — Comedy's highest-rated show during each of its seven seasons — is one of the few original basic-cable shows to be offered into syndication.

Its hit cable status could translate to big syndication dollars, too, but representatives from Comedy Central and Dembar downplayed reports the show could fetch as much as $100 million in that market.

Comedy Central CEO Larry Divney said the animated series, which surpassed 100 episodes earlier this year, should draw significant attention within the syndication market. "This is a strong product that has done well for us and should have a lot of legs in syndication," he said.

He wouldn't reveal specifics of the deal, nor what cut the network would receive from syndication sales.

Dembar Studios president Mort Marcus also would not comment on whether the show would be sold to major station groups on a cash or barter basis.

Divney said most of the edgy show's episodes would not require "massive" editing for syndication distribution, but he acknowledged a few of the more controversial episodes would not be part of the package. "I'd say 85% of the [shows] can air without any editing," he said.

Although stations will most likely elect to air South Park
episodes after 11 p.m., Marcus believes that it will still reach its target audience of men ages 18 to 34.

It might have to forgo the opportunity to reach some of those fans, though. "It's possible that there could be certain markets that may believe it's too hot to handle," Divney conceded.

Divney said he's not really worried that added exposure would dilute South Park's fan base on Viacom-owned Comedy Central, which holds the rights to new episodes through 2005 and an option on 2006 shows. "We think the brand is strong, and [syndicated showings will be] repeat viewing for most of the viewers who watch it on Comedy Central," he said.

While South Park
is a rare basic-cable property in syndication, it's not the only marquee show being pitched to stations.

Premium service Home Box Office is quietly pitching a Sex and The City
package, and sources say the network could complete a deal shortly.

Unlike South Park, Sex and The City
has needed more extensive editing for language, sexual situations and nudity. Several industry sources think the show would be popular in syndication anyway.

HBO executives would not comment.