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CBS hopes ‘Dexter’ slays audiences

Showtime drama to begin airing Feb. 17

CBS will splatter sawed-up versions of Showtime’s serial killer drama “Dexter” across Sunday nights starting next month.

Skein will run Sundays at 10 p.m. starting Feb. 17. Net plans to air all 12 episodes of the show’s first season over consecutive weeks.

Despite its grisly premise, “Dexter” doesn’t depict much more onscreen violence than CBS procedurals like “CSI,” said Showtime Entertainment prexy Bob Greenblatt. Nonetheless, the pay cabler had already been cutting “Dexter” into an edited version for off-net syndication.

According to the Eye, the deal — which CBS topper Leslie Moonves had previously announced at the end of last year — reps the first time a premium cable drama has wound up on broadcast TV. Several premium cable laffers have made the crossover — including Showtime’s “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and HBO’s “Dream On,” both of which ended up on Fox.

Move will expose “Dexter” to a much wider audience. Showtime is available in just 16.3% of TV homes (which subscribe to the premium service), compared with CBS’ 99% national coverage.

“Dexter” is a “high-quality, compelling series that will be new and original programming for most CBS viewers,” said Eye entertainment prexy Nina Tassler. “It’s also a great match with our existing lineup.”

Series will be cut not only because of content but also due to time issues. Average segs run nearly an hour; show will be sliced down to 47 or 48 minutes for CBS. That’s still longer than the average hour primetime drama, and as a result, promo time will be axed. An Eye spokesman said he still expects “Dexter” to carry a full ad load.

Greenblatt has been overseeing the “Dexter” chops himself. The exec said he didn’t think the cuts would impact the show creatively.

“It’s exactly the show that it has always been. We’re just cutting little things here and there that no one will miss,” he said.

Former “Dexter” exec producer Daniel Cerone — who wrote this past season’s opening and closing segs and season one’s finale, among others — was less thrilled with the repurposing. The scribe said he wasn’t sure “Dexter,” even cut down, was appropriate for broadcast TV.

“We didn’t pull any punches,” he said. “We were very aware that we were writing for a premium cable audience. The most interesting thing about Dexter is he kills without remorse. I’m curious and intrigued at how they would cut the show down to make him a character that works on broadcast TV. I wouldn’t feel like a responsible writer-producer if I didn’t express that concern.”

Cerone admitted the residual from the CBS airings will serve as a nice cushion as he marches the picket line — but that’s also causing a bit of an internal dilemma.

“I’m not gonna lie. At this time, while we’re busting our asses on the picket line, going into the new year without pay, it’s nice to get that perk of a residual for something that I’ve already written,” he said. “But it’s also frustrating to see them repurposing our programming and using it against us.”

“Dexter” reps the latest cable skein to get a broadcast home because of the ongoing writers strike. NBC previously announced plans to air USA Network’s “Monk” and “Psych.”

“Dexter” deal comes as sharing of programming has increased between CBS and its Showtime sibling. Showtime is expected to run another round of its latenight uncensored “Big Brother” recap on Showtime Too this spring, much as it did last summer.

The critically acclaimed “Dexter” stars Michael C. Hall as a Miami Police Dept. forensics expert who’s also a serial killer, but only of other murderers who haven’t been brought to justice. Show was adapted from the Jeff Lindsay-penned novel “Darkly Dreaming Dexter.”

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