‘CSI’ on Euro most-wanted list

High ratings part of a renewed appreciation for U.S. fare

Although Disney’s “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” are getting all the ink, the “CSI” juggernaut is quietly making a splash on the primetime skeds of European broadcasters, including the top markets of Britain, Germany, France and Spain.

“CSI: Miami” is attracting the biggest auds.

That popularity may have something to do with the “Baywatch” and “Miami Vice” effect in that Euro audiences tend to have a predilection for watching beautiful (American) people — especially when the characters hang out near beaches.

It’s also part of a recently renewed appreciation for Yank series abroad — from “The Simpsons” and “ER” to “Without a Trace” and the aforementioned “Lost.” Until recently, U.S. shows were relegated to the wee hours on foreign stations; now a handful are pushing their way back into primetime, with “CSI” among those leading the charge.

In a few select cases, such U.S. shows are outperforming both locally produced fare and Hollywood blockbuster movies.

Season four of the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Miami-set series has gotten off to a strong start on CBS in the U.S. — winning the night for each episode that has aired to date — though it’s the earlier seasons that are sizzling across the Pond. (Most non-English-speaking territories won’t air the current season until at least January, after the episodes are dubbed.)

“The fact that ‘CSI: Miami’ is pulling in such stellar ratings on primetime European schedules, against premium domestic content, is a testament to the immense popularity of the franchise,” said Ted Riley, executive managing director of distribution for Alliance Atlantis, the Canuck company that licenses the show abroad.

Riley will be in Cannes next week at the Mipcom TV trade show to work on renewals of the three series in those territories that did not buy “life of series” when the shows were first launched.

He has never publicly discussed the foreign revenues on the franchise, but international TV analysts say “CSI: Miami” is pulling in $850,000-$900,000 an episode — a healthy sum in line with what the Hollywood majors get abroad for their best drama series.

Those analysts suggest that the original Vegas-set “CSI” is pulling in a similar sum per episode from foreign TV stations, but that the third installment, “CSI: NY,” is lagging pricewise.

Domestically, the situation turned out quite differently: A&E got in retrospect a relative bargain from distrib King World, paying $1 million an episode for reruns of “CSI: Miami,” while Spike TV forked over $1.9 million an episode for repeats of “CSI: NY.”

It’s still too early to say whether the New York-set series will ignite with foreign viewers the way “Miami” has.

Following its move from weblet Vox to Bertelsmann flagship station RTL last spring, “CSI: Miami” has catapulted to the top of the Teutonic ratings chart, becoming the No. 1 U.S. show in Germany. Since the launch of season three, the forensics procedural has consistently pulled in a 26% audience share in the 14-49 demo, peaking at 6 million viewers Sept. 20.

On TF1 in France, “CSI: Miami” beat the competition by scoring its primetime ratings best of 9.3 million viewers (a 38% share) followed by 7.5 million viewers (a 40% share) in two back-to-back episodes on Sept. 21. Show now ranks 29th overall in France, a feat rarely achieved by Yank series in Gaul.

On Channel Five in the U.K., “CSI: Miami” is the third highest-rated U.S. drama on U.K. television (directly behind the original “CSI”), currently averaging 3.1 million viewers and a 13.5% audience share.

And in Spain, on Telecinco, season three of “CSI: Miami” has been averaging 4.1 million viewers and a 25% audience share since its launch Sept. 5. It is the second-highest rated U.S. drama in Spain (behind “CSI”) during 2005 and growing in key demos.

The “CSI” franchise is produced by Alliance Atlantis and CBS Prods. in association with Jerry Bruckheimer TV. Alliance Atlantis holds all worldwide distribution rights to the franchise, excluding the U.S., where CBS/King World handles distribution.

Six years ago, it was the Mouse House that did not see the potential of the series abroad, eventually allowing upstart indie Alliance Atlantis to get in on the action.

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