Murdoch keeps ``Practice,'' ``Ally'' reruns in family

By Cynthia Littleton and John Dempsey

HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - Rupert Murdoch has decided to keep the reruns of two of Twentieth TV's most popular network primetime series, ``Ally McBeal'' and ``The Practice,'' within the Fox umbrella by funneling them to the FX cable network.

Sources say FX will pay about $750,000 an episode for ``Ally'' over the multiyear life of the contract, and about $650,000 an hour for ``Practice.''

If original episodes of both shows run for six years on the network, FX would end up paying sister company Twentieth TV, the distributor, about $370 million by the time the contract expired.

Although FX was crowing about the prospect of getting such high-profile shows, cable operators were dazed and confused by what they perceived as a total change of strategy by the network.

``For the last eight months, FX has told us that it's putting all of its focus on the male-18-to-34 demographic,'' says Lynne Buening, VP of programming for Falcon Cable TV, a multisystem cable operator. ``But 'Ally McBeal' is a female-skewing show. FX is changing its identity again; it morphs itself with every new programming purchase.''

Peter Liguori, president of FX, disputes that: ``Lots of young males watch 'Ally McBeal.' The show fits our psychographic profile of hip, savvy, cynical viewers, both male and female. We're not looking to schedule a hyper-narrow strip of programming -- we want a variety of different shows.''

FX now runs ``The X-Files'' and ``NYPD Blue'' twice a night and will get the rights to ``Buffy the Vampire Slayer'' in fall 2001. Not coincidentally, Murdoch also owns these three shows.

Insiders say David Kelley, the creator and producer of both ``Ally'' and ``The Practice,'' became deeply disappointed when no cable network outside the Fox banner was willing to pony up more than $600,000 an hour for ``Ally'' over the life of the contract.