A&E May Join Sopranos Family


After going the reality route with the daughter of a late don, A&E Network next year will evidently be home to TV’s biggest fictional mobster, Tony Soprano.

Going outside the Time Warner Inc. family, sources said Home Box Office has sold the cable-syndication rights to hit mob series The Sopranos to A&E Television Networks, which outbid Turner Network Television, for a record amount.

Sources said A&E -- which will begin airing the Emmy Award-winning series, starring James Gandolfini as the troubled head of a New Jersey crew and his own family, in the fall of 2006 -- paid well over $2.3 million per installment for each of 78 episodes of The Sopranos. That includes the show’s sixth season, which is not scheduled to air on the premium channel until next year.

What form the show -- notorious for its use of profanity and violence -- will take in the editing process for basic cable remained unclear at press time. Also unanswered is whether the show would make the rounds with local stations in broadcast syndication.

A&E and HBO officials declined to comment.

The deal continues A&E’s aggressive acquisition course of late that has seen it pick up CSI: Miami and Twentieth Television’s white-hot serial, 24.Both of those shows will also join the network’s lineup in 2006.

A&E has also been ramping up its slate with a host of unscripted shows, including Airline, a look at the crew and passengers of Southwest Airlines; and Growing Up Gotti, which tracks the life of Victoria Gotti, the daughter of late mob chieftan John.

The latter pulled the highest ratings for any original series in A&E history -- a 2.3 household mark, followed by a 2.7 for the second installment -- when the show bowed last Aug. 2.

One source familiar with the deal put the price in the $2.3 million-$2.5 million range per episode, while another pegged the value at as much at $2.6 million.

In either case, A&E whacked the previous record price a cable network paid for syndication rights: the $2 million NBC Universal Cable spent on Law & Order: Criminal Intent for its USA Network and Bravo services.

Basic-cable leader and HBO sister service Turner Network Television was the other finalist in a bidding process for The Sopranos that also attracted USA Network, FX, Lifetime Television and Spike TV.

Cable-syndication rights to Sex and the City, HBO's big comedic-series hit, went to Turner Broadcasting System Inc.'s TBS.