Outside the jurisdiction

Programmers across the globe have no problem tracking down 'Without a Trace' fans.

It might center on a fictional U.S. governmental office -- the FBI's Missing Persons Unit -- but that hasn't stopped a considerable international primetime audience from flocking to CBS' "Without a Trace." The series airs in 34 countries and was named the seventh most popular TV series in the world, according to a recent report from British research company Informa Telecoms & Media.

Australia remains a top territory for the show, where with 1.2 million viewers it ranks No. 2 in the Wednesday night 8:30 p.m. slot on Nine Network; on French terrestrial web France 2, it delivers an average of 5.8 million viewers on Thursdays at 8:50 p.m. while on Channel 4 in the U.K., it is picking up an average of 1.3 million viewers.

"As a procedural drama, it has a closed story, which is easy to schedule -- it's easier to catch than (Fox's) '24' or 'Prison Break' -- if you miss one episode, you're not completely lost," says Ruediger Boess, head of acquisitions for German broadcast group ProSiebenSat1.

In fact, "Trace" has been such a success on ProSiebenSat1's Kabel 1 network, where it draws 1.3 million viewers on Friday nights at 9 p.m., that this month, the series moves to big sister station Sat 1.

"On Kabel 1, we built a whole new slot with another Warner Bros. show, 'Cold Case' (which is also executive produced by Jerry Bruckheimer for CBS), and now, we're averaging a 10% audience share, almost double the 5%-6% market share the channel usually gets," Boess says.

When it comes to selling the show internationally, Warner Bros. International Television president Jeffrey Schlesinger says "Trace" has succeeded because broadcasters find the show easy to schedule and repeat. "We have seen a lot of interest in long story arcs like (ABC's) 'Lost,' 'Desperate Housewives' and (Fox's) '24,' but self-contained episodes -- particularly crime procedurals -- do give broadcasters more flexibility," Schlesinger says.

With two Australians (Anthony LaPaglia and Poppy Montgomery) and a Brit (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) leading the cast, "Trace" is less obviously "American" than many a U.S. network show, an element that might seem to draw non-U.S. viewers. But with so many territories dubbing the program, Schlesinger remains unconvinced that the international lineup is what sells the program.

"It's really about the writing, the production values and the general feeling that the show has improved from year to year -- we're (effectively) making one-hour movies, and that's not something that local broadcasters can easily do," he concludes.

But Boess might have his finger on the real draw: Bruckheimer's Hollywood blockbuster size, shrunk to the small screen, is a perfect fit, he says. "I saw one episode and was completely sucked in -- it was like watching a movie."
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