The jokes on TBS with 'Office, 'Earl'


TBS has snapped up cable rerun rights to two critically acclaimed hit comedies, "The Office" from NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution and "My Name Is Earl" from Twentieth Television.

NBC Universal also has sold "Office" to the Fox Television Stations for its initial broadcast run in off-network syndication.

TBS' off-net rights to both series kick in during fall 2009. However, TBS also will be able to repurpose "Office" starting in the fall.

"Office" also will debut in fall 2009 on the Fox O&Os in such major markets as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Washington, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Orlando and Baltimore.

TBS' deals for "Earl" and "Office" — which air Thursday nights on NBC — also include digital rights. For "Earl," the network has digital rights for broadband streaming and on-demand, while the "Office" deal includes nonexclusive broadband streaming, on-demand and wireless rights to run concurrent with the off-network telecast rights.

With fewer off-net comedies coming down the pike as broadcast networks scale back on their comedy series — and many of those not making it to a second season — "Office" and "Earl" have been closely watched for months in the syndication industry. Sources said TBS paid $600,000-$700,000 per episode for each series. Both deals are multiyear agreements that include barter.

In addition, the overall value of "Office" (including barter and local station sales) is on track to be more than $3 million per episode for its initial syndication run once all is said and done, according to sources. All parties declined comment on the financial terms of the deals.

Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin, who oversees TBS, said the network was "very aggressive" in pursuing "Earl" and "Office" to join the other off-net comedies on its schedule, including "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Seinfeld," "Sex and the City," "Family Guy" and "Friends."

"These are the best comedies of the past decade, and to have them all in one place is very appealing," Koonin said.

He added that the repurposed "Office" episodes will be used to build TBS' original series, with an hour a week of back-to-back "Office" episodes leading in to "The Frank Show," a new late-night sketch comedy featuring Frank Caliendo, and then "10 Items or Less," the returning late-night scripted/improvised comedy series. TBS can repurpose episodes from past — and not current — seasons. For example, TBS will be able to air episodes from the first three seasons of "Office" in the fall, when the series will be entering its fourth season on NBC.

Bob Cook, president and COO of Twentieth Television, said TBS was a good fit for "Earl," which has "made a name for itself in comedy."

He added that Twentieth likely will take "Earl" out to the local stations toward year's end.

"We made a conscious decision not to take it out to broadcast because Tribune informed us they weren't going to consider bidding until later in the year," Cook said. "Conversely, with multiple cable bidders, we figured it was prudent not to take that out (yet)."

Meanwhile, in announcing the "Office" sale to the Fox stations (that deal also includes barter), Barry Wallach, president of NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution, spoke to the quality of the show.

"In the tradition of NBC's legendary Thursday night comedies, 'The Office' has one of the strongest ensemble casts on TV, a terrific team of writers and a loyal young-adult skew, and the critics are already comparing it to the classic comedies of all time," Wallach said.

Added Frank Cicha, senior vp programming at Fox Television Stations: "We are thrilled to add a program of this strength and quality to our Fox and MyNetworkTV comedy lineups. It's going to be a pivotal player for us."

"The Office," from Universal Media Studios (previously NBC Universal TV Studio) and Reveille Llc., is a remake of the British show co-created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant that stars Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer and B.J. Novak. The show, which won the Emmy for best comedy series last year, is executive produced by Ben Silverman; Greg Daniels, who developed the series for American audiences; Gervais; Merchant; and Howard Klein.

"Earl," produced by 20th Century Fox Television and Amigos de Garcia, is heading into its third season in the fall. The series — which stars Jason Lee, Ethan Suplee and Jaime Pressly — is executive produced by creator Greg Garcia, Marc Buckland and Bobby Bowman.