Exclusive: 'Criminal Minds,' 'Numb3rs' Find Syndie Homes

CBS crime procedurals step up to replace CSI block on CBS, Gannett, Belo and other station groups.
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In 2010, stations are slated to lose two syndicated off-net shows that have already proved themselves top performers in late fringe: CSI: New York and CSI: Miami. But fear not; CBS Television Distribution plans to replace the two CSIs with two other popular off-CBS procedurals, Criminal Minds and Numb3rs.

“What appealed to stations—and this goes all the way back to 2004, starting with CSI—is that these shows will fit right into the late-fringe weekend time period,” says Joe DiSalvo, CTD's president of domestic television sales.

Right now, stations are scoring strong ratings with a late-fringe block of CSI: New York and CSI: Miami at 11:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday nights in most markets. But due to CTD's cable deals, both shows return to cable exclusively in 2010—CSI: New York to Spike and CSI: Miami to A&E. Spike currently strips New York on weekdays, while A&E airs Miami seven days a week. TV stations air both shows on weekends only. In 2010, the shows will exit broadcast syndication completely.

That's where Criminal Minds and Numb3rs come in. “We've developed this block that people have become accustomed to watching,” DiSalvo says.

The CBS-owned TV stations picked up the shows, and so have stations from the Gannett, Belo, Meredith, Cox and LIN chains.

“We treat every market as its own business, whether that market has a duopoly or a standalone station,” says Tom Kane, president of CBS Television Stations. “We hold our general managers responsible for their success rates in those markets. We can't just dictate to them. But acquiring these shows has been the unanimous choice of all of our GMs.”

Like all off-net hours in weekend broadcast syndication, stations acquired both shows on an all-barter basis. CTD gives stations the shows in exchange for seven minutes of time in which CTD sells national advertising. Stations get seven minutes of local inventory in the shows.

Shows sold on a barter-only basis can be as lucrative for TV studios as first-run shows if the ratings are high enough. A show such as CSI: New York can earn its studio as much as $40 million in broadcast barter sales alone over the course of its two-year contract, according to analysts.

Criminal Minds, produced jointly by ABC Studios and CBS Paramount Network Television, is a top performer that is one of the few shows in primetime to see growth this year. The first-run Minds wins its Wednesday 9 p.m. time slot; it's ranked eighth among viewers overall, and 14th among adults 18-49.

Compared to last year, the show is up 5% among viewers and adults 18-49, a rare feat in today's TV landscape. The show stars Joe Mantegna and Thomas Gibson, and is in its fourth season.

Numb3rs, produced by Ridley and Tony Scott's Scott Free Productions in association with CBS Paramount Network Television, is less seen in its Friday 10 p.m. time slot, but “it has the ability to find a new audience,” DiSalvo says. “It's a hidden jewel for us.”

Numb3ers, starring Rob Morrow and David Krumholtz, is ranked 30th among all viewers and 53rd among adults 18-49. Year to year, it is down 2% in viewers and 14% for adults 18-49.

Criminal Minds already has been sold to A&E for $650,000 an episode, according to industry estimates, while Ion is paying $175,000 per week to strip the show starting in 2009. Numb3rs has yet to find a cable home.

While cable sales for off-net procedurals like CSI: New York and CSI: Miami have been impressive, most hour-long dramas are struggling to find buyers. In the recent past, cable networks have broken the bank on acquisitions, with A&E paying a record $2.5 million an episode for HBO's The Sopranos in 2005.

But the cable environment has changed, with many networks such as TNT, USA, F/X, A&E, Lifetime and AMC turning their focus and their budget dollars to original scripted series.

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