Cablers pony up for crime, punishment

National Net, USA drop record coin for shows

The tidal wave of dollars coming from cable for off-net program rights crested high Thursday: TNN agreed to pay $1.5 million-$1.7 million per episode for reruns of CBS drama “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” and USA Network pacted to lock up NBC skein “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” for about $1.3 million per episode.

Deals come on the heels of the previously record-setting $1.2 million per episode Bravo paid for the off-net run of “The West Wing” earlier this month (Daily Variety, March 7).

Bidding on all of the series has been considered fierce, and the winning bids came from sister companies of the distribbers in both cases.

“CSI” is produced by Bruckheimer Films in association with Alliance Atlantis and CBS Prods. CBS and King World, which distribs CBS-produced series, are fellow Viacom companies with TNN.

“Law & Order: SVU” is produced by Wolf Films and Studios USA, sister company to USA Network.

The “CSI” deal affords TNN a weekly, nonprimetime run of the first-year series starting in September 2002 and lasting until the cable net gets its Monday-Friday run in September 2004.

From September 2004-September 2006, King World retains the right to sell a weekend broadcast syndication run of the show, after which TNN will have the series exclusively. The barter ad sale revenue for the broadcast syndie window will likely make the deal much richer for skein’s producers.

The immediacy of the access to the hit show, which became one of the five most watched TV series after it moved from Friday nights on CBS to Thursday nights beginning Feb. 1, was one of the most attractive deal points, TNN exec VP/G.M. Diane Robina said.

“I love that we’re getting it in ’02,” said Robina, who is in the throes of rebranding the network into a general entertainment cabler. “It’s important because it will help make a major change on the network right away, even though it’s just weekly.”

She added that the drama’s self-contained storylines add value the deal, since such series historically play better in repeats than do serials. The reason: Viewers can check in with the show even if they missed the previous day’s episode.

“SVU,” the second series in Dick Wolf’s “Law & Order” franchise, also features self-contained storylines. It will start airing Monday-Friday on general entertainment net USA in September 2003.

The agreement between the corporate siblings extends throughout the life of the crime series, which NBC has renewed through the 2001-02 season. In addition, USA will continue to air original episodes of the series at 11 p.m. on Sundays, nine days after NBC airs them Fridays at 10 p.m.

Thus, come 2003, “SVU” will be seen on USA six days a week.

Pact is rather different from the syndication deal made for the original “Law & Order,” which is in its 11th season on NBC and renewed through 2005.

“Law & Order’s” off-net run is on A&E. Starting in September, episodes from the 1998-99 season and beyond will air on TNT, which will then also get the second cycle of the entire series exclusively starting in September 2002.

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