Diller Lays Down Law in NBC/USA Deal


New York -- NBC and USA Network will share a new Law& Order spinoff series in an unusual arrangement that lets NBC hang onto primetimemainstay Law & Order through the spring of 2002.

USA Network will repeat each episode of the spinoff,tentatively titled Sex Crime, two weeks after the NBC telecast.

And with Law & Order creator Dick Wolf mullingother spinoffs under that brand -- following the Star Trek approach -- someindustry experts believe that there could be more sharing between the cable and broadcastnetworks.

With hit series harder to come by in today'sfragmented universe, NBC paid millions of dollars last year to keep the casts of itstop-rated series, ER and Mad About You.

This apparently encouraged USA Networks Inc. chairman BarryDiller to press NBC on a long-term Law & Order renewal, pegged to sharing aspinoff of that nine-season-old series with USA Network.

"It's possible" that Studios USA would takea similar TV/cable route with those future spinoffs, said Marc Berman, media analyst atSeltel Inc., a TV sales-rep firm. USA Networks owns both Studios USA, which produces Law& Order, and USA Network.

"It can't hurt," Berman said, adding that Law& Order "keeps on chugging in a sea of network erosion."

Berman said he sees Sex Crimes as a logical fallstarter. This would mean that NBC would likely feature the spinoff characters on its hitWednesday series sometime in the spring, perhaps in the May sweeps, he added.

But other sources noted that NBC only announced that SexCrimes is "anticipated for the 1999-2000 season," which could mean that itwill be delayed until midseason.

Berman said he could recall only one other TV/cable sharingof a series. That came a few years ago, when USA Network ran Silk Stalkings inprimetime and CBS ran it in late-night.

As for the NBC affiliates, Berman said, "I don'tthink that they'd be overly happy [about the two-week cable-repeat window]. But theindustry's changing. This may be the wave of the future."

Officially, a USA Network spokeswoman said the networkisn't commenting on the terms of the deal.

Law & Order continues to generate strong NielsenMedia Research ratings on NBC, despite numerous cast changes. "It also does well oncable," Berman said.

A&E Network noted that its Law & Orderrepeats, stripped in its afternoon and late-night dayparts, score well among adults 25 to54.

A nine-year-old series that Berman dubbed "awarhorse," Law & Order ranks as NBC's third-highest-rated drama(behind ER and Providence) and its seventh-highest show overall.

Turner Network Television has acquired the exclusive,off-network rights for Law & Order,reruns of which have resided onA&E Network since 1994, officials said Wednesday.

TNT, in its deal with Studios USA, will get the rights to Law& Order episodes, beginning with the current 1998-99 season, starting in September2001.

In addition, TNT will get second-run syndication rights tothe 181 episodes that A&E has been airing starting in September 2002, whenA&E's deal expires.