Off-Net ‘House’ a Hit in Cable Run

Oct 12, 2008  •  Post A Comment

“House,” a hit on Fox, has become a powerhouse on cable, quickly becoming the most-watched off-net show on television.
Since its debut as a Monday-Friday show last month, “House” has averaged 2.9 million viewers for USA Network, not coincidentally the No. 1 network in total viewers in prime time on cable. It’s beating the other big off-net franchises—the “Law & Orders” and “CSIs”—and has also on occasion outdrawn some of cable’s top original series, including Lifetime’s “Army Wives,” A&E’s “The Cleaner” and FX’s “The Shield.”
The network has also been stacking the show—running three straight episodes—on Sunday night, and has been putting the show in other time periods where it thinks it might beat a movie or another off-net show, said Jane Blaney, executive VP for programming, acquisitions and scheduling at USA.
Ms. Blaney was responsible for acquiring “House” reruns for $1.4 million per episode when NBC Universal Television Distribution offered the show to cable networks in 2005.
“This show stood out. Clearly procedurals work for us. Clearly this one, there was nothing like it,” she said. “It had that strong character, that comedic tone, it was beautifully compatible with our original series like ‘Monk’ and ‘Psych.’ The ensemble cast is something we like to point to. It just fit the brand perfectly.”
With the kind of ratings “House” is generating on USA, it would seem that Ms. Blaney’s bet on the show will pay off big time because advertisers already like the program from its run on Fox. It also is serving as a platform for the network’s original shows, which generate premium ad rates.
Though it started slowly, “House” grew into a big hit on Fox. “You could see that even though it had been helped by ‘American Idol,’ it quickly took on a life of its own, and it was not dependent on that show to get a rating,” added Ted Linhart, VP for program research at USA.
Bill Carroll, who analyzes programming options as a VP at Katz Television, said “House” is “one of the strongest shows on Fox and it has a significant following there. It’s not surprising that would carry over to cable.”
“House,” starring Hugh Laurie as a brilliant but cranky doctor, is a procedural drama that would be predictable but for its serialized aspects, in which it tracks the personal lives and relationships of the staff of the show’s hospital.
Serialized shows often get lower ratings than procedurals, but Mr. Carroll says “House” is more of a “patient of the week” type of show, with a standalone case most weeks.
Before it could strip “House,” USA began running episodes after they aired on Fox on Friday nights at 11 p.m. It also ran “House” marathons. In 2006, when Fox couldn’t run “House” for three weeks because of postseason baseball, it agreed to let USA run a marathon in exchange for promotion of the show’s new time slot on Fox.
“We got the marathon, they got the promotion, and it did help them,” Ms. Blaney said. “It also helped us because we had a very nice marathon.”
Mr. Linhart said it has been interesting to see the ratings for “House” rise at USA as the network shows it more frequently. He said he’s surprised that the Sunday night numbers for “House” actually went up when the broadcast season began and it was competing with originals of “Desperate Housewives” and “Cold Case.”
USA has also found that “House” is bringing in a younger viewer—particularly younger women—than its other big off-net show, “Law & Order: SVU.” “House” viewers have a median age of 45.1, while “SVU’s” median was 48.7 when it was in the same time slots a year ago.
When USA cut the deal to acquire “House” reruns, it negotiated for the rights to put the show on NBC Universal sister network Bravo as well. The show hasn’t aired on Bravo yet, and plans for Bravo to air it have not yet been hade.
“It’s not going to be in the next calendar year, except for a stunt here or there,” Ms. Blaney said.
“House” has also had a strong opening in weekend syndication on local stations.
In its first week of national ratings, it drew a 2.2 household rating, ranking it behind only “CSI: New York” among the new off-net weekend series. It was fourth overall in the category, trailing “Law & Order: SVU,” and “CSI: Miami” as well.
“It’s obviously competitive,” Mr. Carroll said. “Where it was scheduled reasonably, the numbers were pretty good.”
Sean O’Boyle, executive VP and general sales manager for the show’s syndication company, NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution, said preliminary numbers indicate that next week’s number for “House” in syndication will be even better.
“It seems to be working everywhere it airs,” Mr. O’Boyle said.
He added that when it comes to advertising, “House” sells like a sitcom “because it does have a broad-based demographic appeal, and I think you’ll find that the advertisers that pay big dollars for sitcoms also participate in ‘House.’”
Andrew Krukowski contributed to this story.

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