USA buys syndication rights to 'NCIS: LA'

CBS freshman drama sold after seven weeks on air

In what might be an industry record, CBS' freshman drama "NCIS: Los Angeles" has been sold into syndication after just seven weeks on the air.

CBS TV Distribution has licensed the show to USA Network, which has enjoyed great success with the off-network run of franchise flagship "NCIS."

The spinoff's sale price is said to be in the same $2.2 million-$2.3 million per episode range that CBS' sophomore drama "The Mentalist" landed at TNT.

USA will have the right to air the show weekly beginning in September 2011 and will start stripping it in fall 2013.

News of the sale leaked during CBS Corp.'s third-quarter earnings call Thursday afternoon when CEO Leslie Moonves referred to a pending syndication deal for a first-year CBS series, describing the financial contributions as "very significant" without providing further details.

The unusually quick deal is testament to the popularity of the "NCIS" brand -- and the ability for top cable networks to capitalize on crime procedurals in syndication. In its seventh season, "NCIS" has grown to become the most-watched drama series on broadcast. It also ranks as the No. 1 off-network series on cable, averaging 3.5 million viewers on USA.

Ratings for "NCIS: LA" have been consistently strong on Tuesdays this fall (averaging 17 million viewers and a 4.2 rating), and it will make for a natural pairing with the flagship series on USA. Although it might seem risky to invest in the syndicated run of a series before it has even earned a renewal, cable networks made similar gambles with the spinoffs from another established procedural franchise, "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," with "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: NY" both landing syndication sales during their freshman seasons.

"CSI: NY" sold a couple months after its debut in 2004 to Spike TV for a then-record $1.9 million per episode. "Miami" sold late in its first season in 2003 to A&E for $1 million per.

"NCIS: LA," from CBS TV Studios, was created by Shane Brennan.