Australia premiering dramas day-and-date with U.S.

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SYDNEY -- All three Australian commercial television networks plan to synch their premieres of new U.S. dramas with the American premieres in hopes of repeating Network Ten's success with the day-and-date launch of "Jericho" last year.

The new seasons of "Prison Break" and "Heroes" will premiere day-and-date in September with their respective launches on Fox and NBC, the Seven Network said Tuesday as it unveiled its schedule for the second half of the Australian TV ratings season.

The move signals a shift in strategy by the networks here.

"Within 12 months to two years you're going to see one-third of all new shows running straight after their U.S. programming," Network Ten programming chief David Mott said.

It's expected that Network Ten will launch "Californication," starring David Duchovny, immediately after its U.S. premiere on Showtime.

And the Nine Network considers legal drama "Damages," starring Glenn Close and Aussie actress Rose Byrne, such a strong property that it is likely to run it beginning in August -- in line with its premiere on FX.

Seven head of programming and production Tim Worner said the decision to move to day-and-date screenings of such established shows as "Prison Break" and "Heroes" was a product of audience demand.

While the two shows are not Seven's highest-rated U.S. dramas, "they have the hungriest audience of any shows," Worner said, pointing to unconfirmed reports that they are the most illegally downloaded shows among Australian viewers.

"From the feedback we've been getting from fan sites and blogs, the message has been very clear -- don't make us wait. Now from Seven we're sending a message back -- the waiting is over," Worner said.

"We have to change the way we take delivery of the materials ... we have to change the way we think and the way we sell these shows, and at Seven we've shown we can do that," he added.

"Prison Break" airs to about 950,000 viewers each week in Australia, down from an average of 1.3 million in its first season last year. "Heroes," which had the highest debut of any new show this year, has about 1.2 million viewers.

At the same time, Seven announced that it is rushing the reality series "Age of Love" into the schedule starting July 12 to capitalize on the buzz here surrounding Australian tennis professional Mark Philippoussis' search for love.
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