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DirecTV saves 'Damages' from death penalty, but legal bills will be expensive

Damages

Wonder what Patty Hewes would make of this deal.

In a noteworthy marriage of business interests, Sony Pictures Television and satellite broadcaster DirecTV have reached an agreement that will stay the execution of "Damages," the low-rated but critically acclaimed legal drama starring Glenn Close as cutthroat lawyer Patty Hewes. The show, which had run on News Corp.'s FX cable channel for the last three years and garnered several Emmy Awards, will move to DirecTV's 101 Network.

However, if you are a "Damages" fan but do not have DirecTV, you don't have to subscribe just yet. New episodes won't start airing until late 2011 -- at the earliest. The 101 Network will have reruns of the first three seasons of "Damages" starting next year.

For DirecTV, getting "Damages" is something of a vanity play. FX struggled to justify keeping the show alive, given its small audience (even by cable standards). Last season the show averaged about 1.4 million viewers. Despite winning accolades and thousands of fervent fans, it could not muster large enough ratings to be profitable for the two companies.

It is unlikely that "Damages" on DirecTV will come anywhere near the ratings it was getting on FX. The 101 Network is available only in DirecTV's roughly 18.6 million homes; FX is found in more than 90 million. Furthermore, DirecTV does not have commercials, only sponsorships.

But landing the show for the 101 Network does give DirecTV a marketing hook. Two years ago, the El Segundo-based company entered into an unusual relationship with NBC Universal to run another acclaimed drama, "Friday Night Lights," network. For two seasons, "Friday Night Lights" has shined on DirecTV several months before running on the nationwide NBC broadcast network. 

"Damages" costs more than $2 million an episode to produce. Neither Glenn Close nor her costar Rose Byrne are taking pay cuts as part of DirecTV's deal, a person close to the show said.

As was the case when NBC's drama "Southland" shifted to the cable network TNT, look for a smaller cast and fewer high-profile guest stars when "Damages" returns with new episodes. That would lower some costs, but DirecTV probably will still shell out more than $1 million per episode. DirecTV's agreeing to also buy reruns probably helped Sony deal with swallowing the somewhat smaller license fee.

DirecTV would not comment on the terms of the agreement, but a senior executive said the deal makes sense for the company.

"We’re very comfortable with this," said Executive Vice President Derek Chang.

Chang said he does not consider acquiring "Damages" a loss-leader type deal for the 101 Network.

"There are other ways we justify doing things like this," he said. "It's really about extending and investing in a product you feel good about bringing your customers."

For Sony, DirecTV's involvement mitigates any damages from FX's decision not to continue with the show. With DirecTV committing to an additional 20 episodes of the program, Sony can continue to distribute the show to its foreign buyers. And the deal means that eventually, Sony could sell the show in syndication.  Without  four seasons of completed episodes, other U.S. cable channels would have had little appetite to buy syndicated reruns.

Though FX will no longer be home for "Damages," it will still have a piece of the action. Knowledgeable people say FX Productions will continue to receive a producing credit but has relinquished its financial participation in the show.  

-- Meg James and Joe Flint  

Photo: Rose Byrne and Glenn Close in "Damages." Credit: Craig Blankenhorne / FX

 
Comments () | Archives (12)

I love the show and would like to continue to be able to watch it. However, I'm not switching to DirecTV (I have Dish) to watch it, so unfortunately the show will have lost a loyal viewer.

I love the show also. I am glad it will continue for at least another 2 seasons. I think a show as good as this deserves 5-6 seasons at least. As for Direct-Tv, I too will not subscribe since I have Dish Network. But as I have done in the past I can either purchase it via iTunes or the dvd or better yet on blu-ray. So don't worry Damages, this fan will still follow the show.

Damages and Mad Men are my two current favorite shows. Switching to Direct tv though? Not going to happen. I will only be willing to pay for cable. It is a real shame that excellent programming has such a small audience, but I can be patient and watch it on DVD.

Oh, as for the question of what would Patty Hewes think of this deal...
She'd say "I refuse to sell out". And, I agree with her.

GREAT SHOW!

Wow, really great of you to put together this

I am a fan of the show and am very upset that I will know longer be able to watch it. I have cable and will not subscribe to watch one show. Very disappointing!

NOT HAPPY!

Yet another example of why I switched to DirecTv a year ago. They continue to understand whet their customer's want, and have the bandwidth to do it.

Thanks Marty the marketer for the tips to "purchase it via iTunes or the dvd or better yet on blu-ray."

Hard to believe this show needed to be bailed out to survive another season. It's one of the best series on television. I will not get Direct TV to watch it but will watch it on DVD.

Yet another reason I'm glad I switched from Dish to DirecTV a couple of years ago. Their programming is infinitely superior and broader than Dish. Much more bang for the buck in this household!

Thanks 101 for keeping this great series alive!


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