At a staggering cost of more than $230,000 per episode, KCOP Channel 13 Thursday won the coveted right to broadcast reruns of "The Cosby Show" in Los Angeles, beginning in the fall of 1988.
Station general manager Bill Frank declined to specify the price that KCOP paid in outbidding the other three independent stations in town, but said that it was somewhere between the winning bids in Chicago and New York. Those have been reported at $177,000 per episode for WFLD-TV in Chicago and $340,000 per episode for WOR-TV in New York.
However, station manager Rick Feldman was not hesitant at all in answering what he thinks it will mean for KCOP to have "The Cosby Show" in its schedule: "Dominance!" he said excitedly.
In all likelihood, KCOP paid closer to the $300,000-plus New York-figure, since bidding was very competitive among independents here. The show is actually being sold for a weekly license fee, with syndicator Viacom Enterprises setting a different minimum bid in each market.
The minimum bid in Los Angeles was $150,000 per week for 182 weeks, but since there will only be 125 episodes produced as of the start of Monday-through-Friday broadcasts in 1988, that figure translates to $218,000 per episode. With a standard 5% margin tacked on, KCOP's bid had to be at least $230,000 per episode--for a whopping total of more than $28.7 million.
KCOP plans to run the show in the 6-8 p.m. weeknight block that constitutes prime time for independents. It hopes "The Cosby Show" not only will draw big ratings for itself but also will boost the audiences for the programs surrounding it, as it has done for the three comedies that follow it Thursday nights on NBC.
That was why KCOP was willing to pay such a high price for the program--by far the most ever paid in Los Angeles for a syndicated series. The previous local record was set by "Webster" and "Magnum, P.I.," both of which drew about $120,000 per episode.
Feldman and Frank conceded that, at least in the early going of its 3 1/2-year run on their station, the show's advertising revenue might not equal what they paid to acquire it.
"It's not important what the bottom line is on the 'Cosby' half hour," Frank said. "What is important is the bottom line of the station, and we think 'Cosby' will help with that."
Just as the phenomenal ratings for "The Cosby Show" helped propel NBC to leadership in the prime-time ratings race, KCOP hopes it will prove to be the deciding factor in its neck-and-neck battle with KTLA Channel 5 for top-dog status among Los Angeles independents. It already has overtaken KTLA in the critical 6-8 p.m. block.
"I don't think our competitors will even contest that we'll be No. 1 (from 6-8 p.m.)," Frank said, noting that KCOP already is running the popular "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy" game shows there and has future rerun rights to "Webster," "Night Court" and "Growing Pains."
Earlier this week, KTLA General Manager Steve Bell expressed skepticism about "Cosby's" ability to improve the ratings of surrounding shows. But not getting it was clearly seen as a loss by KTTV Channel 11, whose owner, Rupert Murdocuh, was said by informed sources to have been anxious to secure "Cosby" rights at each of the six independent stations that his Fox Television owns.
Still, Feldman acknowledged, the acquisition represents a big gamble.
"With every show that goes into syndication, you cross your fingers, hold your breath and hope for the best," he said. "We think this will be the biggest thing ever, and the odds are very, very good that it will, but you never know. It's all hypothesis."
With so much potential to boost a station's ratings, prestige and ad rates, "The Cosby Show" is handily bringing in record syndication prices. Total syndication fees are expected to approach $500 million, to be shared by Viacom, Cosby and the show's executive producers, Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner.