How Do TV Series Reruns Get Snagged By Networks? (Clue: TV Rights!)

by on December 20, 2010

in Entertainment

Star Trek Voyager

The other day I was trolling the Twitter-verse and came across a great bit of insight on how a network handles different aspects of a series, in particular, the focus was on nabbing reruns. In this case, the Twitter account Syfy, with Craig Engler’s name attached, was what I was reading. On occasion he answers fans tweeted questions and on this occasion, I thought you folks would love to hear this.

The question presented to the Syfy Twitter account was “Any chance we could get Star Trek Voyager on the network?


To license older series a few things have to happen. First, rights must be avail. Rights for popular series are usually in demand & tied up

If rights become avail, they’ll go to the highest bidder, so then it becomes a question of, at what $ do they make financial sense?

The Star Trek series are usually in demand, as they tend to rate pretty well and there are a lot of episodes. Thus harder to get.

Hmm, I’m guessing no is the overall answer. But as you can see, rights to a property are very special, much coveted items that can spell success or failure for everyone involved. How one handles those rights, or contract of the property, is very important.

I’ve know all along that when we watch anything, whether it be scripted entertainment or sports or what not, there are many entities in the background that have legal holds on various aspects of the product. As much as I’d love to see a Fringe episode crossover into Human Target, I’m betting that would never happen. Each franchise is an entity in and of itself. It’s not impossible, but it’s a tough one that would take a long time and a whole bunch of wrangling to get everyone to agree on specific legal aspects. We’ve seen some things make their way across those barriers though. Do you remember the alternate DC comic covers in Fringe? Or how Marvel characters started showing up in different series on ABC after Disney bought them out for $4 billion? Within weeks I was catching reference to Spider-Man in Castle with Nathan Fillion.

Can We At Least Be Teased With Canceled Shows Scripts?

Another issue addressed by @Syfy on this day was the frustration that fans have when a series is canceled outright on them, in mid-stream of a story. The repsonse:

“Yes, it’s a problem endemic to TV as a medium due to extremely high costs & long production times. Very hard to avoid.”

Someone asked why they don’t publish the remaining scripts so folks can get a whiff of where the story was going and the reply was basically that there’s usually a very limited supply of scripts ahead of time, plus if there are enough, there are still legal issues with either the rights to the property or that the writers and/or producers may not want the content out there. It is copyrighted work.

One person asked who generally ends up with the rights to a show and generally speaking, the producing studios tend to own them. Keep in mind that the producing studio is usually not the network airing the show.

Since @Syfy was answering questions, I tossed out a question of my own that has been perturbing me for a bit, and that’s why the Syfy Channel would do a reimagining of a show that is still on the air. That show is Being Human. The original is still airing on BBC America and is a superior story and I’m not sure why Syfy is bringing their own version to the small screen while the original still airs. It will be rather confusing for me to try and watch both, though my loyalty for the time being will be with the original.

Craig was more focused on the issue of rights and chose to stay focused in that direction…

But when you consider the business of television, yes, first and foremost, it’s a business, it can get downright complicated while for the fan, without seeing everything that goes on in the background, it’s frustrating to become attached to a show and have it go away on you.

How important are rights to the rights holder?

It can vary from product to product. Folks hold on to rights with the future in mind if they think to property can have some potential down the road. Or if they’re looking for or needing a quick buck, they could sell it and move on.

Though not quite related, in my mind the following example could serve as a parallel idea to planning ahead with your contract for your for work:

We all know the timelessness of the 1977 science fiction movie, Star Wars, or as it’s now being referred to, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.

Many actors sign contracts for their roles that stipulate some form of ongoing percentages from a franchise, albeit, no matter how small. But a few things happened with James Earl Jones in regards to the role of (the voice) Darth Vader: Rather than taking the points that most actors agree to, back then he was broke and took the one-time payment of $7k for his work. (Those very same points made a few millionaires out of some actors!)

He’s done fine since, but man, I’d have to say, I’d be having ulcers about that call, regardless.

I thought this was interesting, so I tossed it out there for ya!

Source: Syfy Channel Twitter Account, Vader voice notes, via Geeks of Doom .

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