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Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios announced the lease of 75,000 square feet of production space in Culver City, Calif. on Thursday, which The Hollywood Reporter has learned will be needed for its 35th and 36th television series.
These will be studio’s third and fourth brand new scripted situation comedies in less than two years, and once again, Allen is going forward with the half-hour syndicated shows without pilots for either.
They will be funded by his own company, with an initial guaranteed order of 104 episodes of each, or 208 episodes in total. Allen won’t say, but he makes them for approximately $350,000 to $400,000 each, which by major network standards is a bargain these days. That is a minimum investment of $72.8 million for the 208 episodes.
Allen brags he has never canceled a show. “The way I see it we’re the Walmart of television,” says Allen. “We make it very efficiently but we don’t cut costs on writers or actors.”
Allen, a stand-up comic who has built (and still wholly owns) a company with over $100 million in annual revenues, has already found financial success with his first two scripted shows, The First Family and Mr. Box Office. They joined the corporate line-up of 30 unscripted shows that Entertainment Studios has created and sold since 1993.
His first two scripted shows, The First Family and Mr. Box Office, launched in September 2012. Both have highly recognizable casts, largely made up of African American actors. That helped Entertainment Studios sell them a month ago to Viacom’s BET Network, to air on their spinoff Centric Channel in a unique deal. The shows still first air on local TV stations in broadcast syndication but then get a second run on the cable service days later; and a third run a week later on Comedy.tv, one of Allen’s eight 24-hours linear HD television networks.
“That is the largest licensing of sitcom sight unseen,” enthuses Allen, adding: “They licensed almost 190 episodes sight unseen. That’s the largest cable deal of its kind.”
Allen is also offering The First Family and Mr. Box Office to local TV stations as a Monday through Friday strip in syndication beginning in fall 2014, even as they continue airing on cable and on Comedy.tv, which currently is available in about one million U.S. TV homes (mostly on Verizon Fios).
This time, vows Allen, he is not going to be limiting the shows to an African American cast. “These sitcoms will be broad in nature,” Allen tells The Hollywood Reporter. “They will have recognizable big name stars who I can’t name yet. Basically, were going after the Big Bang, Two And A Half Men and How I Met Your Mother audience.”
This summer, E.S. will begin selling the two new sitcoms to local stations for syndication beginning in September 2014 in a two hour-bloc, with double runs for each – mostly on weekends. That is how he sold his first two sitcoms.
“I went to the broadcast community and I said people don’t want to watch movies on TV with 30 minutes of commercials anymore because of the Internet,” says Allen. “Let’s pull off the two hour movie and put on a two hour sitcom bloc.”
He essentially gives the shows to the stations for free and makes his money doing barter sales to advertisers, who are guaranteed a certain amount of exposure. If they don’t get it on one E.S. show, Allen makes it up to them on one of his other shows.
Allen, whose company is headquartered in Century City, can do this because he produces an episode for less than anyone else – shooting in L.A. without any tax breaks – under WGA and SAG contracts. He shoots each half-hour comedy in only two days inside his Culver City studio. He uses all the same equipment, props and producing, writing and technical staff over and over. It’s run like an assembly line, he likes to joke, the way they make cars in Detroit, where he grew up.
E.S. says in its announcement the deal for the studio space is a “multi-million dollar, multi year lease.” It was negotiated by Terence Hill of BT Equities who represented E.S. Travis Landrum of Industry Partners represented the landlord, Reisbord Family Investments.
Allen already has plans on the boards for a new game show and a talk show (which he will not host) aimed for a fall 2014 launch as well.
“With this model we never ask anyone’s permission to go forward,” says Allen. “We create it. We shoot it. We sell it. That’s never been done before.”
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