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Channel 5 may buy US shows from Sky

Channel 5 Broadcasting, owners of the planned fifth terrestrial television channel, has approached Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB with a plan to buy US programming jointly and to secure terrestrial rights to some shows now on Sky Television.

The talks, which are still at an early stage, could see the two broadcasters bid jointly for US shows before the launch of Channel 5 in January 1997.

Channel 5 also wants to bid for the rights to popular action programmes, such as Highlander, to which BSkyB has both terrestrial and satellite rights. Some of Sky's terrestrial rights were bought in advance of the auction for Channel 5, for which BSkyB was a leading contender.

The new channel, owned by Pearson, United News & Media and CLT, the Luxembourg- based broadcaster, is currently commissioning and acquiring programmes for its first year of operation. With a budget of pounds 110m, next to pounds 600m at ITV, the new channel will concentrate on daytime television, where it is expected to rely on traditional daytime fare, along with US and other imported series.

Sky, which broadcasts popular US shows such as Melrose Place and The Simpsons, has developed into a "proving ground" for US TV series, according to David Elstein, Sky's head of programmes.

"The ITV companies and the BBC have both understood that if programmes are successful in 25 per cent of UK homes, then they should be popular in the other 75 per cent" - those without cable or satellite.

Two popular programmes pioneered in the UK by Sky, The Simpsons and The X-Files, are now being broadcast on the BBC. Mr Elstein said the advantages work both ways.