'Minds' has wandered to berths on A&E, ION

Burnett follows in famous tracks

A&E Network and ION Television have snapped up off-net rights to "Criminal Minds" from CBS Television Distribution.

Separately, A&E sister channel History has partnered on a new series with Mark Burnett about U.S. newsman Henry Morton Stanley's legendary quest to find Dr. David Livingstone in Africa.

A&E's multiyear deal for the exclusive cable rights to "Minds" allows it to air episodes from the first three seasons on a weekly basis starting in May before being able to strip the first four seasons starting in September 2009. A&E executive vp and GM Bob DeBitetto said he hasn't determined whether he ultimately will strip the series, but he's eyeing a 7 p.m. slot as well as "opportunities to use it vertically in primetime."

ION's multiyear deal for broadcast syndication rights to the procedural, which is in its third season on CBS, allows that network to strip the show in primetime starting in September 2009.

Sources said A&E paid $650,000-$700,000 per episode, while ION ponied up $175,000 per episode.

A&E's license fee indicates that the market for off-net procedurals in cable has cooled a bit from just a few years ago, when it seemed as if every new sale was a record-setter. For example, "Minds" sold to A&E for less than half what TNT paid for "Cold Case" and "Without a Trace" ($1.4 million each) and a third of what Spike TV paid for "CSI: NY" ($1.9 million). However, "Minds" did top other shows like "Bones," for which TNT shelled out about $450,000 an episode.

DeBitetto said "Minds" will complement the network's schedule, which includes such other off-net acquisitions as "The Sopranos" and "CSI: Miami" and unscripted series like "The First 48." A&E also is debuting its first original drama in several years, "The Cleaner," in July.

" 'Criminal Minds' is a great drama in a genre that we know well and works very well for us," he said. "It's a franchise that we had our eye on for quite some time."

He also pointed to the nonserialized nature of "Minds." A&E has tried its hand at highly serialized off-net dramas like "24," which the network acquired with the intention of airing as a primetime "event" before moving it to daytime. It has since been pulled from the schedule.

ION, meanwhile, has been building its off-net coffers with recent additions including "Boston Legal" and "Quantum Leap."

"This high-caliber TV series strengthens and broadens ION Television with target audiences and advertisers long term," ION Media Networks chairman/CEO Brandon Burgess said.

Scott Koondel, executive vp off-network, cable and interactive media at CBS Television Distribution, also praised the quality of the series. "It's got a great ensemble cast and great characters, and it's very well-written," he said.

"Minds," produced by ABC Studios in association with CBS Paramount Network Television, is exec produced by Mark Gordon, Ed Bernero and Deborah Spera.

Meanwhile, Mark Burnett Prods. will produce the unscripted series "Expedition: Stanley and Livingstone" for History. The show, which History emphasized is not a competition or a game, will re-create Stanley's quest, with five explorers retracing his journey using only a compass, the map and journal from the original expedition. The series goes into production in the fall in Tanzania for a 2009 premiere.