'X-Files' Deal Makes for Strange Bedfellows


When Turner Network Television began its off-network pursuit of The X-Files, the cable network that had made drama its ethos decided the deal would only make sense if it could split the bill with another channel.

The obvious partner, according to TNT general manager Steve Koonin, was Sci Fi Channel.

"We literally picked up the phone and asked them if they would be interested," said Koonin. "We worked for several months together on what each other's needs are, and made a joint agreement."

Under terms of the contract, TNT will pay an estimated $270,000 per episode to air X-Files
during a non-primetime slot and for two additional runs, Monday through Friday. For its part, Sci Fi will allocate around $330,000 for primetime rights — in addition to a second daily run, in a fringe time slot — Monday through Friday.

"We know the viewer of Sci Fi at night is not the same viewer of TNT during the day," says Koonin.

While the pact may make sense on paper, some question the viability of the waning X-Files

"They make for some strange bedfellows," said one cable programmer who wished to remain anonymous. "I don't know how they are going to make that relationship work if they run into trouble. We're talking about a show that's in its twilight."

And while The X-Files's other worldly tone figures to be a good match for Sci Fi, it might send a confusing message to viewers if it airs under TNT's "We Know Drama" banner.

"Bringing in a show like The X-Files
is a bit of a stretch for TNT," said one cable analyst. "They need to figure out what kind of texture and tonality of drama they mean, in terms that viewers can understand."

Koonin says collecting off-net series is the foundation of TNT's programming strategy, and The X-Files
is a perfect addition to the network's current crop of contemporary dramas such as ER, NYPD Blue, Law & Order
and Charmed.

"Job No. 1 is to build this brand and make it a powerful drama brand," Koonin said. "If that means we need a cup of X-Files
and a dash of NYPD Blue
to make our recipe, we can do that."

According to Sci Fi senior vice president of acquisitions, scheduling and program planning Thomas Vitale, the network purchased the venerable Fox series for reasons other than brand equivalency. Sci Fi is confident the show will perform significantly better on its air than it did on FX.

"It's nine years of proven success," he said. "With 202 episodes, it's a show that will have long legs and a long life on the channel because the episodes are stuntable. You can do a 'Monster Week' or 'Conspiracy Week.' "

But the window for such stunts may have passed. "The time to do stunts and marathons is when a show is hot, as opposed to when it's old hat," the analyst countered. "In terms of getting a 1.5 rating, using it more selectively might be better than blanketing the world with it."