Cable Gets an 'L&O’, '24’


A quartet of cable services made off-network acquisitions last week.

Bypassing the traditional broadcast platform, Law & Order: Criminal Intent will find its syndication home on USA Network and Bravo, starting in the fourth quarter of 2005, for what appears to be a record license fee.

And A&E Network and Superstation WGN are counting down the hours until next fall when they can begin airing Fox’s serial suspense drama 24.

The deal with NBC Universal Domestic Distribution — USA and Bravo are NBC Universal Cable channels — covers 89 installments of Criminal Intent through the fourth and current season, with options for the entire production run of the series, produced by Wolf Films and NBC Universal Television.


Published reports place the per-episode license fee at $2 million a show, a figure that tops the $1.9 million Spike TV reportedly paid for CSI: New York last month.

NBC Universal declined to comment on the fiscal terms, but a spokeswoman said USA holds the Monday-to-Friday rights. The general-entertainment network, which likely will strip the show, can also it air it on weekends, according to the spokeswoman. That’s when Bravo also holds rights.

USA already repurposes L&O: CI on Saturday nights, after the show premieres on the Peacock on Sunday nights, where it has struggled this season against ABC’s Desperate Housewives. USA took a similar tack with L&O: Special Victims Unit, repurposing that member of the L&O family before it began stripping it on Sept. 8, 2003.

From that launch through Nov. 12 of last year, the show averaged a 1.74 household average and 940,254 viewers on USA, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

SVU has improved on that performance over the comparable period this year with a 1.88 average and 950,000 viewers.

Encores of the original Law & Order continues to be a ratings juggernaut for Turner Network Television.

“The Law & Order series has been hugely popular both in originals on NBC and in rebroadcasts on cable. Criminal Intent is a well-written, high-quality show that has been a vital part of the NBC schedule for the past four years. I’m thrilled that we are keeping it in the family,” Jeff Gaspin, president of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Cross-Network Strategy, said in a statement.

A&E senior vice president of programming Bob DeBitetto said that starting next September, the network has exclusive Monday-through-Friday rights to Twentieth Television’s 24, save for Fox’s airing of new episodes. The series’ fourth season premieres in January.

DeBitetto said A&E can also air the show on a nonexclusive basis on weekends.

Superstation WGN said last Thursday it acquired the rights to the first three seasons of 24, and expects to air the show on Sundays.

DeBitetto would not pinpoint A&E’s intentions for the show, starring Kiefer Sutherland as counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer, but said: “There’s no question that the serialized content works against presenting the show in a traditional five-night-per-week format. We’re thinking about vertical showings and some marathons, as FX did successfully in the past. [Twentieth] has given us great flexibility with the show.”

He said A&E would work with Fox to develop “expanded openings” to introduce or reintroduce viewers to various storylines.


Another scheduling possibility: pairing 24 installments with CSI: Miami when that show joins A&E’s schedule in 2006.

That companion tactic is one CBS owned-and-operated stations are expected to deploy with the two series.

Neither A&E nor Twentieth Television would discuss deal terms, but published reports put the license fee at some $225,000 to $250,000 per episode. Although acknowledging that Twentieth was in discussions with WGN, a spokesman said no deal had been finalized as of press time. Sources indicated that the WGN component was part of a larger deal that owner Tribune Co. was negotiating for some of its TV stations.

Including the CBS stations, which reach 34% of the country, Twentieth has cleared 24 to stations touching 70% of the nation.