King priming its ‘CSI’ pump

USA, TNT, TNN, FX and Court TV courted for deal

NEW YORK — Each episode of the hit series “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” could end up on a cable network within a week of its primetime run on CBS, starting as early as this fall.

That’s the word from sources who say that distributor King World is pitching the “CSI” reruns in meetings with at least five cable nets this week: USA, TNT, TNN, FX and Court TV.

Episodes of two series in network primetime, NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and ABC’s “Once and Again,” currently play on cable a week or so after their first run. USA airs “SVU” and Lifetime has “Once & Again,” both in 11 p.m. cable slots.

The “CSI” deal, however, would rep the first time a cable net purchases the firstrun rights in an overall deal that includes multiple plays of the reruns four years after their broadcast-network debut.

The multiple-play reruns of “SVU” and “Once & Again” are still available. USA got NBC to concede a weekly cable run of “SVU,” a Studios USA production, because NBC wanted the spinoff of its bellwether hit “Law & Order.”

Synergy helps

Lifetime picked up the extra run of “Once & Again” because distributor Touchstone TV and ABC are part of the Walt Disney Co., half-owner of Lifetime.

King World is salivating at the prospect of racking up a $150 million total license fee for “CSI” in the marketplace, buoyed by the record $1.2 million an episode shelled out by Bravo earlier this month for reruns of “The West Wing.”

These are the key elements of the “CSI” deal, at least in preliminary form:

  • Firstrun weekly repeats, to begin this fall on the cable network that engineers the winning bid and continue for three years

  • Multiple runs of the off-net “CSI,” which would begin a multiyear contract on the cable network in the 2004-05 season with the 88 hourlong episodes accumulated during the first four years of the CBS run

  • Additional weekend reruns, which the cable net could buy preemptively by ponying up extra cash — or which King World could sell to TV stations in off-net syndication.

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