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‘That ’70s Show’ could be the next series to leave Netflix

“That ‘70s Show” featured Laura Prepon, left, Ashton Kutcher and Topher Grace.
A scene from “That ’70s Show,” a comedy featuring Laura Prepon, left, Ashton Kutcher and Topher Grace.
(Larry Watson / Fox )

The popular Fox comedy “That ’70s Show” has been a part of Netflix’s library for years, but now the show’s owner says competing streamers are interested in bringing the program to their services.

Los Angeles studio Carsey-Werner Television says it has received interest from at least four buyers, including Netflix, for the exclusive streaming rights that end next year. The show, which ran on Fox from 1998 to 2006, has been on Netflix since 2011, with 200 episodes from eight seasons.

“That ’70s Show” is part of a handful of franchised comedies that Carsey-Werner Television believes will be valuable to potential buyers. Others include “Roseanne,” “3rd Rock From the Sun” and “Cybill.” The company, which boasts the largest independent TV comedy library, has identified 10 programs, with the bulk of their exclusive streaming rights coming up in 2021.

Jim Kraus, president of domestic television at Carsey-Werner, said the streaming wars are sending prices “sky high” for comedies.

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“That’s the enviable position that we’re in right now,” Kraus said in an interview. He expects the exclusive streaming rights for “That ’70s Show” to fetch hundreds of millions of dollars.

Streamers are willing to pay top dollar for popular older TV shows that already have a proven audience. Some of the programs have racked up a lot of viewers in syndication. NBCUniversal paid $500 million for “The Office,” and WarnerMedia paid $425 million for “Friends.” Netflix paid even more money for “Seinfeld.”

“There’s a halo effect right now,” said Eunice Shin, a partner at Prophet, a brand and marketing consulting firm. These successful shows have a large volume of episodes that could help increase the amount of time viewers spend on streaming services, Shin said.

“The reason why the value has increased is because of demand from the streamers, not necessarily demand from the audience,” she said.

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According to Nielsen, “That ’70s Show” was the 15th-most watched series on Netflix in the U.S. in 2018.

The show, based on the high school years of executive producer Mark Brazill, is a coming-of-age story that takes place in Wisconsin. Its stars, including Topher Grace, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Laura Prepon and Wilmer Valderrama, have gone on to other popular movies and shows, including “Spider-Man 3,” “Black Swan” and “Orange Is the New Black.” During its run on Fox, it was ranked first in its time slot on four different nights.

Unlike other older series, “That ’70s Show” doesn’t feel dated for today’s audiences, Kraus said.

Netflix is under pressure to add more shows to its library, as licensed programs such as “The Office” and “Friends” exit its service. The company is expected to spend $15 billion on content this year.

Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos has downplayed the loss of those popular comedies, saying the platform helped audiences discover them.

Kraus said his company would give Netflix the opportunity to renew “That ’70s Show” but noted that “with all the interest that has been expressed, if we cannot come to an agreement with them, we will move on.”

The value of some of Carsey-Werner’s shows, however, could be affected by controversies surrounding its stars.

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One series that has been hurt is “The Cosby Show,” which is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Bill Cosby was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison after he was convicted in 2018 on three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

In 2018, comedian Roseanne Barr posted a racist tweet, causing ABC to cancel her revival of the original “Roseanne” series. A spinoff, “The Conners,” has been a hit without Barr.


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