Prime time for cable hits

Actors benefit as shows move to nets

Actors who land on successful television series often eagerly await the day when their shows go into syndication, with the promise of increased residuals. Since the WGA strike left gaps in the primetime schedule, that day is coming sooner than expected, and with a twist: Shows still in production that made their mark on cable are moving to major networks, rather than the other way around.

The trend is providing actors with additional residual checks and exposure to larger audiences. This cable-to-network cross-pollination, though potentially short lived, promises to help actors' careers and their pocketbooks.

Second-run episodes of Showtime's "Dexter" made the transfer to sister network CBS last month, and USA Network's "Psych" and "Monk" will graduate within USA's family, to NBC, in April for eight-episode limited runs.

"Dexter," the story of serial killer Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) who enacts his brand of vigilante justice, made its CBS premiere Feb. 17, drawing 8.1 million viewers.

"It's exciting to broaden the audience for a show we believe in," said Erik King, who plays Sgt. James Doakes on "Dexter." "Financially, let's just say it's never been done before, and it's something that should be considered going forward."

CBS vp media relations Phil Gonzales said, "We believe it's the first premium series to have a full-season run on a broadcast network," adding that "Dexter" was selected for its caliber and its compatibility with other primetime programming. "This move was dictated by the strength and quality of 'Dexter,' not a new business model."

CBS doesn't publicly discuss these types of syndication deals, but the SAG residual contract dictates that pay for a television program that moves from cable to a broadcast network is the same pay that actors would receive if they appeared on a show originally made for a broadcast network. That pay range varies, depending on the actor's role on the show, whether he or she is a regular cast member and other factors.

Episodes of USA's "Monk" and "Psych" will start airing April 6 on NBC. But at least one cast member has mixed feelings about the repurposing.

"It was great news, exciting news for the show, but honestly, knowing the move was a fallout from the strike was a bit of a downer," said Kirsten Nelson, who plays Police Chief Karen Vick on "Psych."

Stanley Kamel, who plays psychotherapist Charles Kroger on "Monk," said he feels great about its move to NBC. "To know that the show will be seen and enjoyed by people for many years to come -- it's an actor's dream come true."

Whether the new exposure will help gain name recognition and fame for such actors as King, Nelson and Kamel has yet to be seen. Kamel said that as an actor he tries to keep his attention focused on what he can control. "All you can do is the work, the best work you can possibly do," he said. "How it is received and how it affects your actual career are things that are really out of your control."

Nelson, who has appeared in guest roles on such network shows as "Malcolm in the Middle" and "Frasier," said, "I learned a while back that there's a lot of distance between network exposure and instant fame and fortune."