Studios on Trail of Syndie `Intent’

Feb 5, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Call it “Law & Order: Syndication Strategy.”

Executives at NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution, their rival distributors and local stations alike will be scrutinizing the debut of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” in syndication this fall much in the fashion of an episode of the NBC procedural crime series.

The launch of “Criminal Intent” as a Monday-through-Friday strip in syndication marks the first off-network crime drama to be sold to local broadcasters on a weekday basis in more than a decade.

Already the series is landing key time periods around the country, often leading into or out of local newscasts. NBC Universal has just completed a round of additional carriage deals with stations to bring the covered areas up to more than 85 percent of the U.S.

The launch could unearth evidence of a new market for the well-trodden procedural genre in syndication, especially if it proves to be an effective local news boost.

“Criminal Intent” has been offered to stations as a full barter deal with no cash exchanged. The syndicator has now added markets such as Denver, Atlanta and Columbus to the mix.

New markets for the weekday syndication run include NBC affiliate WCMH-TV in Columbus, Ohio, Fox affiliate KDVR-TV in Denver, CW affiliate WUPA-TV in Atlanta and WNDY-TV/WISH-TV in Indianapolis. Previously, executives at NBC Universal announced that the drama had been sold to the Fox-owned stations in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago as well as other major markets.

Most crime procedurals, including “Criminal Intent’s” sister programs “Law & Order” and “Law & Order: SVU,” have been sold as Monday-through-Friday strips on cable. Broadcast runs of hour-long dramas typically are limited to weekend airings, while off-net comedies often are stripped Monday through Friday and air in news-adjacent blocks of shows. Ratings declines among long-running sitcoms such as “Friends” in syndication and few new hit comedies coming down the pipeline have left stations searching for other weekday options.

“In October, we had been selling these weekly shows into syndication and kept hearing from stations that there was this tremendous appetite for procedural dramas,” said Sean O’Boyle, senior VP and general sales manager for NBC Universal Domestic Television. “It wasn’t hard to figure out how well this type of show was doing in prime time, be it `CSI,’ `Law & Order’ or `House,’ and their cable runs were performing well too. So it was really common sense to bring this out on a Monday-through-Friday basis and we are now getting opportunities in some terrific time periods.”

Mr. Boyle also pointed to the success of stations airing series such as “The Rockford Files” and “Magnum P.I.” more than a decade ago as a basis to show that dramas of this nature have a history of working in syndication. He said that stations also told him that late local news often gets a particular bump on the nights “Criminal Intent” is the lead-in from prime time.

Among the markets that could tie the series into their newscasts as a lead-in or lead-out are New York and Boston, according to station sources.

If “Criminal Intent” works as a syndicated strip, executives at NBCU’s competitors can be expected to cater to stations with similar launch plans for their own procedural series.

Garnett Losak, VP and director of programming for Petry TV, said the composition of audiences for crime hours and local news is in fact similar. “Most of the procedural dramas skew heavily to a 35-plus audience, which also happens to be a news audience, so pairing the two up would seem to make a lot of sense,” Ms. Losak said. “It will be an interesting experiment for stations and undoubtedly a lot of people in this business will be watching it closely.”

“Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” which is currently in its sixth season on NBC, continues to be one of network television’s highest-rated dramas. “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” is a Wolf Films production in association with NBC Universal Television Studio and is Dick Wolf’s third installment of the “Law and Order” brand. Mr. Wolf, Warren Leight and Peter Jankowski are executive producers.