The Hollywood Reporter -- Entertainment Studios has done a multi-million dollar, multi-year deal with BET Networks for all 208 episodes of its two first year situation comedies, The First Family and Mr. Box Office - most of which aren't yet produced - to begin airing on their Centric network April 19.
This turns the usual TV business model upside down. Instead of starting on a network, going to cable and then ending in broadcast syndication, these sitcoms started in syndication. Then they'll head to cable and Entertainment Studios HD network, Comedy.tv.
"We're thrilled to partner with Entertainment Studios and add these two incredible series to our growing comedy programming slate on Centric," said Paxton K. Baker, evp and general manager of Centric. "The First Family and Mr. Box Office star African American talent that resonate with our audience."
The two sitcoms' stars include Bill Bellamy, Gary Busey, Gladys Knight, Christopher B. Duncan, Kellita Smith, Jackée, Marla Gibbs, John Witherspoon, Jon Lovitz, Rick Fox, Tim Meadows, Essence Atkins and Vivica A. Fox.
"This is a historic deal," says Entertainment Studios founder, owner and CEO Byron Allen. "We figured out how to crack the code to create, finance, produce and distribute scripted sitcoms with no broadcast network involved. We did it through syndication and then layered in cable. No one has ever done that."
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Each episode will air first on Centric between Monday and Friday, and then the same episode will air in syndication that weekend. A week later that same episode will air on Comedy.tv.
Entertainment Studios also plans to offer the sitcoms as a strip in broadcast syndication for 2014, Allen confirmed to THR. The four-year deal would call for the shows to run Monday -Friday through at least 2017 for what an industry source said was a value of around $250 million.
Allen would not say how much BET is paying for his two sitcoms, except to say it is in the millions and is for several years. It is believed to be a three-year deal.
Viacom's BET Networks created Centric as a spinoff of Black Entertainment Television. The general interest channel, which originally showcased music, is available in 28 million homes.
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The broadcast syndication ratings for the two sitcoms run around a 0.6 to a 0.8, is mediocre but acceptable for weekend syndication. National sponsors for the shows include Wal-Mart, McDonalds, AT&T and Hershey, most of whom are expected to also work with Centric.
Allen, a comedian and show host as well as a producer, has worked on court, lifestyle and comedy programs. These sitcoms are his first scripted shows, financed internally by his privately-held L.A. based company. The shows cost around $300,000 per episode, a source says -- a fraction of the cost to a national broadcast network for a sitcom.
Allen committed to 104 episodes of each sitcom without even a pilot. They began airing in weekend syndication last September and currently are cleared in more than 85 percent of U.S. TV homes.
Allen was personally involved in the negotiations. Barbara Zaneri, executive vp, program strategy, scheduling and acquisitions for BET represented the Viacom networks.
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