CBS Television Distribution is logically going where it's been before: It's returning Star Trek: The Next Generation to syndication.
Stations covering more than 80% of the country and in 29 of the top 30 markets have already cleared the show in two-year deals, including stations from the Tribune, Sinclair, CBS and LIN broadcast groups. CTD is offering the show to stations on an all-barter basis with an 8-minute local/6½-minute national barter split.
“That's for the stations' benefit,” says Joe DiSalvo, president of sales for CTD. “That's a little more inventory for them than is typical. I think it's a show that people are going to find again and enjoy.”
Stations are expected to strip Star Trek: TNG in late night, DiSalvo says. Tribune purchased the show for both its cable channel, WGN America, and its TV stations. On WGN America, Tribune will air the show every Tuesday night from 7-10 p.m. ET, a programming change that started on Jan. 20, with an additional episode airing at 1 a.m. ET. A fifth episode will air Saturdays at noon. Until then, the only place Next Generation fans could find the show on TV was on NBC Universal-owned Sci Fi on Friday nights at 7 p.m. ET.
Star Trek: TNG first premiered in syndication on Sept. 28, 1987, to an audience of 27 million people. It was the highest-rated series in the Star Trek franchise, and also enjoyed a long and successful run on cable. Now, with 178 episodes, stations can air the show for 36 straight weeks without any repeats.
Another advantage the show offers is that it's already a well-known brand, says John Nogawski, CTD's president. “Stations are economically challenged and don't want to spend as much money to promote shows as they have in the past. They are trying to make every dollar count. The audience will already be aware of Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
Both DiSalvo and Nogawski said they also were inspired by NBCU's decision to bring out Law & Order: Criminal Intent as an off-net strip, something that hasn't really happened in syndication since the mid-1980s, when syndicators gave it a shot with shows such as Magnum P.I. and Simon and Simon.
Law & Order: CI, in its second season, averages a 1.4 live-plus-same-day national household rating. NBCU has been happy enough with the syndicated performance of the show that it's doing the same thing with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. That show is cleared in 92% of the country and premieres this fall.
More Hour Strips?
“It's possible that we'll bring out more hour-long strips,” DiSalvo says. “I think we have to be selective in terms of how we look at our library, but it does present a good opportunity for us.”
Such deals are highly unlikely with the shows that stations probably want most—the high-rated CSI franchise—because those shows are locked into exclusive cable deals for years to come and residual payments on those shows are high. But should Next Generation perform well, CTD would consider bringing back its siblings—Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise—and pairing them with it, according to DiSalvo.
Next Generation isn't the first revival of a Star Trek franchise. In September 2006, the company rereleased Star Trek: The Original Series, starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, in remastered high-definition.
Timing for the return of Next Generation could be good: J.J. Abrams' much-anticipated Star Trek prequel from Paramount Pictures comes out in movie theaters on May 8.