USA Network has won the cable rights to air Home
Improvement for around $87 million, or more than $400,000 per episode.
USA, however, will not have exclusive rights to the Tim
Allen sitcom, which will also air concurrently in broadcast syndication. WGN also picked
up the show, and it will air nationally via that Chicago-based superstation, which UVTV
USA, which is now under the control of USA Networks Inc.
chairman and CEO Barry Diller, beat out a number of other cable networks, including TBS
Superstation and FX, for the rights to air the "second cycle" of reruns of the
hit ABC series, in what was widely believed to be aggressive bidding.
Bill Croasdale, president of national broadcast for Western
International Media, said USA's winning bid had unmistakable signs of Diller's
"It's a great move," Croasdale said.
"It sends a message to the ad community that USA is willing to step up to the plate
and do what it takes to play in the big leagues. I suspect that the Monday-to-Friday
schedule will now become more original programming interspersed with off-network
USA's main rival for the show was believed to be TBS,
which has locked up such hit network shows as Friends, The Drew Carey Show, Roseanne
and Fresh Prince of Bel Air. "We always bid on good sitcoms," said a TBS
"[Time Warner Inc. vice chairman] Ted Turner has deep
pockets," Croasdale said, "but so does Barry Diller."
A spokesman for Buena Vista TV said the deal with USA will
cover 201 half-hour episodes, and it runs for five years.
The first cycle of Home Improvement shows began more
than three years ago, with an exclusive, seven-year window in broadcast syndication. USA
will begin running its shows either in September 2002 or 2003, depending on when the ABC
series ends its original run.
Marc Berman, associate program director for Seltel Inc.,
which represents broadcast stations, noted that Home Improvement's recent
ratings on ABC have dipped to record lows. Nonetheless, he called the USA deal a coup for
the network, albeit a risky one, recalling other sitcom busts in syndication, like Cosby,
Designing Women and Murphy Brown.
But, Berman said, "in order to stay competitive, you
have to be aggressive. And this is a show that jump-started ABC seven years ago."
Next up for grabs is the second cycle of Seinfeld,
which will be the object of cable networks' bidding as early as next month, and which
could go for as high as $150 million, or about $1 million an episode, according to
Last week's publicity bonanza surrounding the last
episode of the show may drive the price up even further, ad-agency directors said.
"It can't hurt," Berman said.