The Viacom-owned cable network has acquired off-network rights to ABC’s breakout hit Scandal, The Hollywood Reporter has learned exclusively.
Under the pact, BET will begin airing seasons one and two of the Kerry Washington political-fixer drama this summer. Additionally, original episodes from the upcoming third season of the Shonda Rhimes series will air no sooner than eight days after original first-run episodes are broadcast on ABC. The deal for off-network repeats extends to additional seasons of the drama if it should continue its run (likely).
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BET will debut the first two seasons of the ABC Studios drama with a marathon starting in August, continuing to air episodes up until the third-season premiere on ABC in the fall (a formal third-season premiere date has not been announced yet). The agreement extends season-one Scandal episodes to BET in addition to Netflix, where they’ve been streaming since September 2012. It marks the first time season two will air outside of ABC, ABC.com and Hulu. Financial terms of the deal were not immediately available.
The sale comes as studios continue to enter the syndication market early (Scandal has produced a total of 29 episodes in its two seasons) in a bid to generate instant revenue rather than waiting for the typical 100-episode mark to explore off-network deals. For their part, USA Network acquired rights to ABC’s Modern Family during its first season in January 2010, while Oxygen picked up Glee during its freshman run. Both series will begin airing in syndication later this year.
The move will likely help ABC broaden the serialized drama’s audience among its core demographic, though Rhimes has been vocal about the series not specifically being a show catering to African-Americans. The show, about a fixer with professional and personal ties to the president of the United States (Tony Goldwyn), ranks as the No. 1 broadcast series among African-Americans, averaging 2.8 million viewers a week.
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In its second season, Scandal catapulted from a modest performer in its seven-episode first season to a bona fide hit in its Thursday 10 p.m. slot. The fast-paced drama averaged 8.5 million total viewers and a 2.9 rating among adults 18-49, consistently winning its slot against heavy competition from CBS’ Elementary (and frequently topping its Rhimes-created lead-in Grey’s Anatomy). Perhaps more important, the series ranked as Thursday’s most social broadcast this season — out-tweeting Fox’s American Idol with more than 4.2 million total, a phenomenon that helped attract viewers including Oprah Winfrey and Lena Dunham. Star Washington rallied the cast to sign up for Twitter to live-tweet original episodes, with the series regularly taking up multiple worldwide trending topics each week. Since launching as a political soap, the series has grown to become a critical favorite for its risky storytelling approach and brisk pacing. It’s generating Emmy buzz heading into Thursday’s nominations.
“We’re thrilled to be joining forces with ABC in airing this dynamic series,” BET chairman Debra Lee said. “Scandal is a cultural phenomenon that has resonated with viewers for the past two seasons and we’re excited to be part of its continued journey.”
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At BET, Scandal comes as the Viacom-owned cabler continues to find success with its original scripted fare. The network earlier this month scored robust ratings for the sixth-season return of its flagship series The Game (3.6 million viewers and a 1.7 in adults 18-49) and the premiere of new Gabrielle Union series Being Mary Jane, which opened to a robust 2.0 in the target demo and 4 million viewers. (Coincidentally, Union was also up for the part of Olivia Pope that ultimately went to Washington.)
Scandal marks BET’s first syndicated scripted drama acquisition. The network in the past has aired repeats of comedies The Parkers, Moesha and Family Matters and continues to air Wendy Williams‘ syndicated talk show.
Rhimes created Scandal and executive produces the show alongside Shondaland partner Betsy Beers and Mark Wilding. BET’s Barbara Zaneri, exec vp program strategy, scheduling and acquisitions, negotiated the deal.