'Feud' leaves Tribune for new distributor


Debmar-Mercury has inked a multiyear agreement with FremantleMedia North America to acquire domestic distribution rights to the syndicated game show "Family Feud."

The rights officially kick in starting with the 2007-08 season as Tribune Entertainment's deal to handle the station distribution and national barter sales runs through the current season. But Debmar-Mercury co-presidents Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein noted that they have already begun working concurrently with Tribune on the strip and have been talking with stations about renewals for 2007.

The executives said "Feud" fits in well with their distribution portfolio, especially the strips, which also include the first-run sitcom "Tyler Perry's House of Payne" and the off-net series "South Park."

"We've done quite a bit in a short period of time, and now we've rounded out everything we've done with 'Family Feud,' " Bernstein said. "It's fantastic given that 'South Park' is really late-night, 'Tyler' is early fringe/access clearance, and ('Feud') is really daytime/early fringe clearance. This provided us with the perfect balance."

Moreover, "We wanted to get in the game show business -- what better way than to do it than with a show that's so established?" Marcus said, adding that Debmar-Mercury is aiming to secure upgraded time slots for "Feud" and hoping to increase its ratings.

"Feud," which is cleared in more than 95% of the U.S., averaged a 1.8 household rating during the week ending Nov. 5, up 6% from the previous week but off 5% from the same week a year ago, according to the most recent Nielsen Media Research data available. Season-to-date through Oct. 30, "Feud" is averaging 1.7, down 11% from the same point last season.

As for the decision to switch distributors, FremantleMedia executive vp business operations and general counsel David Shall noted that the company's executives have known Marcus and Bernstein, whose company was recently acquired by Lionsgate, for several years.

"It's a conversation we've been having for the past several months, and we've been looking for a new direction in the distribution of the series for some time now," he said. "Debmar-Mercury seemed like a good fit. ... Tribune has done a fine job; we just wanted to go in a different direction. We can do a little better in the barter sales area and position ourselves to go to another level in terms of clearances."

It's yet to be determined who will handle barter sales for "Feud."

Tribune -- part of the Tribune Co., which is up for sale -- declined comment Tuesday.

"Feud," in its 30th year on the air and its seventh season in syndication in its current incarnation, was revamped for the start of the 2006-07 season, with a new look and new sets and John O'Hurley signing on as the new host. Shall said the show is unlikely to undergo further creative changes in the near future.