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

July 19, 2010 |  5:59 pm

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

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