“NCIS” is not a primetime-only player.
Scott Koondel, now CBS’ president of distribution, was tasked with selling “NCIS” to cable. He ran into objections from potential buyers, but believed the series would be a strong performer.
“For a drama, it had the same characteristics of a great sitcom — a strong ensemble cast that appeals to both men and women,” Koondel says.
In 2007, USA Network acquired “NCIS” for less than $1 million an episode and the series premiered the following year.
“The numbers that we started to see soon after ‘NCIS’ went on the air kind of took our breath away,” says Ted Linhart, USA Network’s senior VP of research. “It would have been irresponsible to estimate the show would perform as well as it did.”
“NCIS” has performed so well on USA Network that the cabler airs the show across nearly 20% of its schedule, and it occupies nearly 40% of USA’s primetime. The show averaged 2.18 million viewers an episode in the November sweep, airing 134 times on USA during the month.
“It’s the top acquired series on television in total viewers,” says Linhart. “It does run a lot, but it still holds its audience.”
While “NCIS” has had plenty of success both on broadcast and cable, it’s arguably even a bigger hit internationally.
“Interestingly enough, ‘NCIS’ was always, from the beginning, quite popular internationally,” says Armando Nunez, president of CBS Studios Intl. “To a certain extent, its popularity was bigger in a number of markets around the world than it was on CBS. The American audience kind of followed that. In the earlier years, it was wildly successful in France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., Spain and Australia.”
Today, “NCIS” is distributed in more than 200 territories across the globe, and it is the top series on France’s M6 and Italy’s RAI 2 channels. It’s also a top-10 series on its respective channels in Germany, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the U.K.
Says Nunez: ” ‘NCIS’ will be on television around the world 30 years from now. It has a very long shelf life.”
Dramatic growth spurt | Showrunner transition goes smoothly | Authenticity matters | Procedural also a cable, worldwide sensation