Classic comedies like Cheers, M*A*S*H, The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Bob Newhart Show may be coming back to your local TV station courtesy of a newfangled digital deal between MGM and Weigel Broadcasting.
The two partners have just unveiled Me-TV, a channel beaming old sitcoms, dramas and commercials to digital frequencies on broadcast stations.
Jim Packer, MGM Worldwide TV co-president, and Norman Shapiro, Weigel Broadcasting president, took the wraps off the arrangement Tuesday morning.
The two previously worked together on the launch of THIStv, a national broadcast movie service, which after two years is distributed in 85% of the country to 40 million cable households.
A local version of Me-TV, which stands for Memorable Entertainment TV, has been airing on Weigel's O&O WWME in Chicago.
WWME and WBME, the Weigel station covering Milwaukee, Wisconsin, are the first affiliates of Me-TV.
Packer said Me-TV's national distribution will be handled by the Lion's domestic TV sales force.
"I believe Me-TV will be a perfect complement to THIStv," Packer said, adding that the deal makes the Hollywood studio "the clear leader" in the digital broadcast space.
The deal is the first significant TV initiative since Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber took the reins of the Lion a few months ago.
How do the two TV partners make money with this?
"Me-TV is a terrific companion service to THIStv or as an option for a station that did not have the opportunity to affiliate with THIStv," Weigel's Shapiro said.
In his group's markets, he added, the two services will be pitched to advertising clients jointly.
MGM TV EVP John Bryan said that THIStv had become "a great revenue stream for our affiliates" and that Me-TV "should do the same," but no specifics were available as to how much the Weigel station group has pocketed so far.
MGM execs would not comment on what the Lion stands to make from licensing the shows to Weigel and other station groups or from its share of the eventual ad revenues.
However, it is arguably the domestic and international TV distribution operations of MGM under Packer and Gary Marenzi, respectively, that have essentially kept the Lion fed revenue-wise over the past five financially- strapped years.
As Me-TV goes national, other reruns -- Laverne & Shirley, Happy Days, Bosom Buddies, (which toplines a young Tom Hanks), and the original Star Trek series -- will join the roster.
Tribune also is pushing a retro digital service on its owned stations called Antenna TV and another service, actually called Retro TV, operates mainly in Tennessee.
Ever since TV Land ditched classic reruns for reality shows though there's been a hole in the market for top-notch "comfort" series; and the recession arguably makes familiar faces like Newhart and Van Dyke more appealing to viewers.
The day-to-day management of Me-TV will fall to Weigel EVP Neal Sabin, who said the content being chosen reps "iconic series, stars and genres that have defined pop culture for decades."
The network is preparing promotional stunts to heighten interest by other station groups. To coincide with The Green Hornet 3D movie coming to theaters in mid-January, for example, Me-TV is rolling out the original Green Hornet TV series starring Van Williams as the Green Hornet and Bruce Lee as Kato.
Further licensing arrangements for Me-TV will be pushed in barter deals, per Bryan, at the upcoming Natpe TV trade show in Miami (Jan. 24-26).