Cable networks get rights to CBS drama

Sci Fi Channel and WE will be seeing ghosts next year. Cablers have jointly acquired rerun rights to the CBS drama “Ghost Whisperer” beginning in fall 2009.

Ion Television also has chipped in for off-network rights on the broadcast side. The trio of deals brings CBS Television Distribution’s take for “Whisperer,” starring Jennifer Love Hewitt as a woman who communicates with the dead, to a healthy $650,000-$700,000 per episode, industry sources said.

Series, now in its third season, is a co-production of ABC Studios and CBS Paramount Network TV.

Thomas Vitale, Sci Fi’s senior veep of programming and original movies, said the skein was a natural fit with the cabler’s audience, particularly with the success of Sci Fi’s unscripted spook show “Ghost Hunters.”

Cabler is hoping that “Whisperer” and its star Hewitt will help bring more femmes to Sci Fi without alienating its core sci-fi-loving male demo. Sci Fi has been on a push to broaden its aud profile with more women.

“Whisperer” was appealing to Sci Fi because research showed that the cabler’s core aud has not seen much of the series in its initial run on CBS. Research also made it clear that there’s very little overlap between the viewership of Sci Fi and the femme-focused WE, so there’s not much concern about the WE telecasts cannibalizing Sci Fi runs and vice versa, said Scott Koondel, CBS Television Distribution exec veep of off-network, cable and digital media.

“We think there’s a huge untapped audience for (‘Whisperer’),” Vitale said. “Our audience has only seen a little bit of it, but it’s still an established show that is very highly promoted by its network and has high resonance with the (supernatural drama) audience.”

Sci Fi will run the show in a stack, or multiple episodes airing one or two nights a week, while WE is expected to program it as a strip, Koondel said.

In conjunction with the “Whisperer” deal, Sci Fi also picked up off-net rights to a range of shows from the CBS vault, including “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” which has never before aired on Sci Fi; WB hit “Charmed”; syndie cult-fave action-drama “Highlander”; and for comic relief, sitcom “Mork and Mindy.”

The strategy of stacking off-net acquisitions around compatible originals on one or two nights a week, instead of a traditional Monday-Friday skedding pattern, has given Sci Fi’s primetime slate more of a network feel, with a different lineup of shows each night, Vitale said.

“We’re really changing what Sci Fi Channel is with these kind of acquisitions,” Vitale said, referring to “Whisperer,” “Charmed,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and the other shows in the CBS pact. “As the original programming strategy ramps up, the acquired programming strategy has had to ramp up too.”

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