Twentieth Takes Back Reba

Distributor Twentieth TV has taken the unprecedented step of reclaiming the off-network episodes of  WB sitcom Reba to double-run it on more than 200 WB affiliates.

Episodes of the Twentieth Century Fox Television-produced Reba McEntire comedy, which had been cleared on a variety of stations in 70% of the U.S, will instead air back-to-back at 4-5 p.m. weekdays on WB stations beginning in fall 2006.

The acquisition by The WB represents the first off-net programming acquired for its new two-hour, young-adult programming block, which will run from 3 to 5 p.m., replacing its weekday kids block starting next year. It's also the first time a syndicator has reclaimed a show.

Under terms of the two-year deal, off-net episodes of Reba, a strong performer for The WB the past four years, will appear 10 times per week in the afternoons. To avoid Reba overload, next season will be the last in which the WB airs repurposed Reba episodes back to back from 7 to 8 p.m. on Sunday, a spokesman confirmed.

The WB has been under pressure for years from its top affiliates, including Tribune and Sinclair, to get out of the kids business.

When the network slid 6% in its core 18-34 demo (1.6 to 1.5), and 7% in adults 18-49 (1.7 to 1.6) this past season, WB Chairman Garth Ancier decided the net could use some more compatible young-adult programming in the afternoons to help boost the prime time schedule, as well as stations’ early fringe and access shows.

Sources say Ancier had expected Reba, the top performer for the network on Friday nights, to get a big price in syndication. When the sitcom ended up with only a straight two-year barter deal, as most now do, he approached Twentieth about reclaiming it for the new 3-5 p.m. block.

Twentieth TV President Bob Cook says he consulted with Twentieth Century Fox Television President Gary Newman and the show’s profit participants before deciding to exercise a standard contractual option to take back Reba—a move first reported being under consideration last week (B&C, June 20).

“Our job is to maximize revenue on our shows and minimize risks,” Cook notes.

While terms weren’t disclosed, industry sources say the deal will provide stations with four minutes of advertising time per hour.

The WB will sell all the national ad time, splitting the proceeds with its Twentieth partners after it pays out residuals. Cash is always more valuable to syndicators than barter, especially when the ad market is down.

Although this is the first time a syndicator has reclaimed a show, Paul Franklin, Twentieth’s executive vice president of broadcast sales, notes the contractual clause is a common industry practice, because “you always want to protect yourself…if opportunities present themselves.”

Twentieth Friday offered stations the chance to replace Reba with two shows being readied for off-net syndication, Family Guy and Still Standing. Because stations will not be obligated to carry Twentieth product, however, other syndicators are expected to make a run at the newly vacant time periods over the next year. 

Cook concedes some stations will be unhappy with the decision, but says Twentieth “will do our best to work with them.”

The WB had hoped to announce its entire January and September 2006 weekday schedule by now, but vacations and other factors caused delays in finalizing deals.

Ancier and Entertainment President David Janollari appear to be closing in on choosing from among the multiple pieces that will make up the January-September schedule, which could consist of another double run sitcom and a drama that may be renewed through 2006-07.