In a blockbuster deal, the NBC Thursday night comedy 30 Rock was sold in syndication to cable networks Comedy Central and WGN America and to Fox and Tribune stations on the broadcast side, each for Fall 2011 debuts.
NBC Universal decided to sell the sitcom to Fox and Tribune station groups, splitting the difference. Locally, 30 Rock will air on Tribune’s WGN-TV, while Fox’s WNYW in New York and KTTV in Los Angeles will strip the sitcom.
Other sales include… on the Tribune side, WPHL in Philadelphia; WDCW in Washington, D.C.; KCPQ in Seattle, KRCW in Portland, Ore., and WXMI in Grand Rapids, Mich. Fox bought the show for KDFW in Dallas, KRIV in Houston, KMSP in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and WOFL in Orlando. Even though Fox owns My Network TV stations in those markets, 30 Rock will not air on them.
30 Rock is sold on a barter basis in broadcast with four minutes retained for local stations and three minutes for NBC Universal to keep to sell to national advertisers.
Usually, stations pony up cash license fees for off-net sitcoms. But with the economy tight as it is, the station community wasn’t anteing up to pay the big bucks for 30 Rock or any other off-network sitcom.
Major sitcoms offered for all-barter isn’t new. Warner Bros. offered Family Matters on a barter basis for a two-year term after stations rejected Warner’s cash license offers and became a surprise smash hit in off-net syndication when it debuted in 1993. Like Rock, Matters was sold during tough economic times in the industry (1991-92). Unlike Matters, 30 Rock scored a cable deal in its first cycle (Matters was sold to TBS and local stations for a second all-cash cycle in 1995.)
As for the cable deals, Comedy Central and WGN America paid $800,000 an episode combined for the series, fighting off suitors TBS and E! It’s easy to understand why NBC Universal went to the cablers first: They had the money to pay, while cash-strapped local station groups did not.
30 Rock stars Saturday Night Live alumnus Tina Fey, who also created the series and serves as executive producer. The show also stars Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan. Despite a so-so ratings performance, the program is one of the most-watched online (think Hulu) and creates plenty of buzz on the Internet and the blogosphere. It’s an Emmy winner too, with nine awards – including two for Outstanding Comedy Series.