A&E won a bidding war Monday for the rights to broadcast edited versions of "The Sopranos," with the $2.5 million per episode price tag believed to be the biggest ever for a series offered in syndication.
The Emmy-winning mob drama will begin on the basic cable network in fall 2006.
HBO chose A&E over TNT, the Turner Broadcasting network that concentrates on dramas. The deal for 78 episodes of "The Sopranos" eclipsed a $1.9 million-per-episode purchase made by USA and Bravo for "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."
An elated Abbe Raven, A&E Network president, called "The Sopranos" a "smart match to the kind of things we have been doing at A&E."
The network, best known for its long-running "Biography" series, has tried over the past few years to liven up a stodgy image with series such as "Dog the Bounty Hunter," "Growing Up Gotti" and the drama "MI-5." It has recently begun airing "CSI: Miami" reruns and purchased syndication rights to "24," which will begin next fall.
With its brutal violence, language and sexual content, "The Sopranos" will prove to be a challenge for more conservative basic cable standards. HBO already produces separate, cleaner dialogue for international markets and will work with A&E to see how scenes can fit the standards, executives said.
"We feel very strongly that we can deal with that in a responsible and creative way," Raven said.
Another HBO signature series, "Sex and the City," began running in edited fashion on TBS last year, a few months after its HBO signoff, and has done well for the network. That series was sold for an estimated $1 million per episode.
Similarly, the A&E episodes won't air until "The Sopranos" ends its run on HBO with a final season sometime next year.
HBO made a sales pitch to several different networks, including Lifetime, Spike TV and USA, before the bidding came down to A&E and TNT.
By David Bauder