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Nbc Must Shell Out More To Stay On Top

Brian Lowry Los Angeles Times

In the current world of network television, even being No. 1 means having to try harder - and, especially, having to pay more. Just ask ratings champ NBC.

NBC’s Peacock has ruled the prime-time roost the past two seasons but now faces the chore of paying a lot more than chicken feed for the programs that put it on top.

The result has been a dizzying series of negotiations related to some of television’s most popular series, beginning in April with NBC’s three-year renewal of “Frasier” for a price that averaged out to around $3 million an episode. All told, the agreement with Paramount, which produces the show, represents a commitment by NBC of more than $200 million, based on the 24 episodes produced each season.

Renewal deals followed with the studios behind “Friends,” picked up through a sixth season at a substantial increase, and “Seinfeld,” which garnered a record sum pegged at roughly $4 million an episode for the coming year, covering the major raises received by Jerry Seinfeld and his three co-stars.

Later this year discussions will commence regarding future seasons of “ER,” which may make network executives need a doctor, or at least some aspirin.

NBC is getting a bargain now for TV’s top-rated drama. It’s estimated to be paying no more than $1.5 million for the right to broadcast each episode, when the show generates more than $1 million per minute of advertising time.

Industry sources say the network likely will have to more than double that fee to keep the show, since production company Warner Bros. Television can potentially test the appetite for “ER” at other networks.

The Emmy-winning series obviously would represent a major prize for any broadcaster and brings NBC ancillary benefits the studio is sure to raise in seeking to up the ante, among them the vast audience the show feeds into late newscasts and “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” which delivers its biggest ratings of the week on Thursday nights.

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