In an unusual situation where an off-network show has grown
substantially in value, Turner Network Television has bought the exclusive rights for Law
& Order, which is currently in reruns on A&E Network.
TNT paid about $140 million to $150 million, according to
sources familiar with the deal.
TNT, in its deal with Studios USA, will shell out twice
what A&E paid for the first 181 episodes of the show -- an estimated $200,000 to
$250,000 each, according to sources -- and a hefty $600,000 to $700,000 for this
season's episodes. The deal adds up to between $125 million and $150 million during
its 10-year span.
Both TNT and Studios USA declined to comment on the price,
but a TNT spokesman called the deal a financially reasonable one, based on the staying
power and growing success of the series.
Law & Order'sratings have been growing
stronger since it went into reruns on A&E in 1994. Last year, for example, the show
earned a 1.6 Nielsen Media Research rating at the start of the year in its 11 p.m. time
slot, but by December, it was up to a 2.2, a TNT spokesman said. The series also continues
to perform well for NBC on Wednesday nights.
"It hasn't even peaked," the spokesman said,
adding that Law & Order is a perfect mate for the other original hour-long
drama that TNT has on-air, ER. TNT declined to comment on the cost of the Law
& Order deal, but it paid an estimated $800,000 per episode for ER.
TNT initially gets the rights to this season's Law
& Order episodes starting in September 2001. In addition, TNT will receive
second-run syndication rights to the 181 episodes that A&E has been airing starting in
September 2002, when A&E's deal expires.
There will be an overlap period, from September 2001
through September 2002, during which TNT will air the new Law & Order episodes
from this season while A&E is still burning off the 181 initial episodes of the show,
a Studios USA spokesman said.
TNT will have exclusive rights to the show for 10 years
once its window begins.
Studios USA looked to jack up the license fees for Law
& Order, which A&E bought for a relatively cheap $155,000 per episode.
TNT, USA Network and A&E were bidders this go-around,
according to published reports.
An A&E spokesman wouldn't comment on the
license-fee increase that Studios USA was seeking, but he maintained that it was the
network's decision to pass on the show this go-around. He said A&E wants to
target its resources toward original programming.
Under its deal, TNT can air Law & Order in prime
access (6 p.m. to 8 p.m.) or primetime.