'Criminal' strips for b'cast

Rare deal puts drama on Fox O&Os

"Law & Order: Criminal Intent" has become the first off-network drama series to be sold as a strip in broadcast syndication since 2001.

NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution said Thursday that it has cleared the show on Fox owned-and-operated stations in several major markets — including Los Angeles, New York and Chicago — for a fall 2007 launch. The terms of the two-year deals call for a straight 50-50 barter split, with one run per day.

"7th Heaven" had been the most recent off-net drama to be sold to broadcast stations as a strip. Moreover, it has been 14 years — since "21 Jump Street" — since an off-net crime drama has been available on a weekday basis, according to the distributor. The more recent model has been to sell off-network dramas as strips in basic cable and to stations for weekend runs.

"In a marketplace where we're selling (one-hour) shows like 'House' and 'Monk' as a weekend traditional concept, we were meeting with broadcast partners who were talking about our great shows and saying they wish they were available on a Monday-Friday basis — that got us thinking," said Sean O'Boyle, senior vp and general sales manager at NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution. "There's always a need from the local broadcasters for quality content, and we're able to provide it for them."

Frank Cicha, senior vp programming at Fox Television Stations, said the show can work in several time periods, depending on the market — including late-night, early fringe and even daytime — and noted that the nonserialized nature of the series allows it to repeat well.

"We have a lot of shelf space to fill, particularly in our duopoly markets," he said. "When you look at first-run syndication, there's a lot of stuff that's not working, and I haven't heard tons about new development at this point. (Plus), we didn't buy 'Two and a Half Men' and 'Family Guy' (both of which went to the Tribune Broadcasting stations this year). When you add that all up, if you have an opportunity to pick up a quality show that's hot on the network as we speak, under favorable deal terms, you go for it."

In 2004, NBC Universal-owned USA Network and Bravo acquired cable rerun rights to "CI" for nearly $2 million per episode. USA, which paid a majority of that license fee, acquired the strip rights and a repurposed episode on Sunday that aired on NBC the previous week, and Bravo got a three-hour window of repeat episodes from the first five seasons on Sunday nights.

O'Boyle and Cicha noted that there's room for "CI" to air as a strip in both cable and broadcast syndication, pointing out that the top off-net sitcoms in broadcast syndication — "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Seinfeld" and "Friends" — also are airing on cable on weekdays.

Cicha also predicts that more dramas will be sold as strips in the near future.

"I think it speaks to the times because there aren't a lot of sitcoms, and a lot of first-run isn't doing very well," he said.

"CI," the third installment in the "Law & Order" franchise, is in its sixth season on NBC, where it's averaging 11.5 million viewers and is up 39% in the key adult demos of 18-49 and 25-54 over last season. The series, a Wolf Films production in association with NBC Universal Television Studio, is executive produced by Dick Wolf, Warren Leight and Peter Jankowski.
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