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Network Plans to 'Sanitize' Racy Program's Content

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NEW YORK ( -- In a record $2.5 million-per-episode deal, A&E Television Network acquired the rerun rights to HBO's mob hit The Sopranos. A&E will begin to air the show in fall 2006.
Image: HBO
A&E has acquired rerun rights for the wildly popular TV gangster saga.

Highest ever
That price tag is believed to the highest ever for rerun rights to an off-network property, surpassing the $1.92 million NBC Universal's USA and Bravo networks reportedly paid last year for Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

A&E, which is owned jointly by the Walt Disney Co., Hearst Corp. and General Electric Co., is available in 88 million homes -- more than double the number of HBO subscribers. It will own the rights to six seasons of the show. The 65 episodes that compose seasons one through five have already aired; the 10 to 13 episodes that make up the sixth, and reportedly final, season are currently in production and slated to air on HBO early next year.

Show controversy
While the mob show about Tony Soprano and his family is one of cable's biggest hits, it has also generated controversy thanks to the characters' rampant foul language, routine visits to the Bada Bing! topless club and liberal doses of violence. Though A&E is not bound to the same Federal Communications Commission regulations broadcast networks are, it plans to air sanitized versions of the show in order to enhance its appeal to advertisers.

An A&E representative said several alternate scenes already have been shot because HBO anticipated the show's future value in rerun rights and filmed cleaned-up versions of racy scenes during production. In the previously unreleased scenes, for example, Tony Soprano tempers his language and dancers at the Bada Bing! wear bikinis. A&E has reportedly had conversations with numerous advertisers, especially those trying to reach a younger, upscale audience, and cites entertainment- or technology-based companies as potential sponsors.

Packaging strategies
The network is also exploring strategic ways to package the show, whose serial nature could pose a challenge for running it as a rerun. One option is to air it vertically, showing multiple episodes in one night. Another is for A&E to pair it with one of its other off-network acquisitions, which include 24, CSI: Miami and Third Watch. It is not expected to couple it with its mobster reality show Growing up Gotti, about the famous gangster's daughter and her family.

The sale of The Sopranos has been heavily tracked, thanks to the record-breaking sum it was expected to command. TNT was also vying for the show and was considered a favorite by many industry insiders since it and HBO are both owned by Time Warner. HBO, however, had insisted it would instead maximize price. Spike, USA and FX also submitted bids but were not considered finalists.

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