Cable, Broadcast Differ On Sharing Programs

Two cable shows have made regular appearances on network TV since the summer, but cable and network executives differ on whether it’s a recognition of cable’s draw or just an experiment.

It’s not uncommon for network TV programs to play on cable, either in their traditional roles as reruns or in a trend that began last year for programs to appear on selected cable outlets shortly after the programs’ first run on the networks. But this past summer found two networks digging for programs that made their mark on cable TV. NBC ran Court TV’s top-rated show, Forensic Files. And ABC is running Monk, a program it originally developed then dropped and allowed USA Network to pick up.

Networks programming heads say they were pleased by the results but didn’t see it necessarily as clearing the way for more cable crossovers.

“It worked out terrifically but this has been an experiment,” said Susan Lyne, president of ABC Television. Monk started on USA earlier this year and several shows ran Tuesday and Thursday nights on ABC, with the Sept. 26 airing winning an average audience of 7.2 million viewers against CBS’ Survivor: Thailand and NBC’s comedy block. It was the highest ratings ABC got in the time slot since April.

“It’s been a nice utility player for us in season,” Lyne said. ABC ran another episode of Monk Oct. 31 and plans a few more in November. But Lyne said not to expect a lot of cable crossovers, although it was possible ABC might do it again.

“I don’t see this as a big wave of the future,” Lyne said.

Over at NBC, NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker said he was pleased by the ratings for Forensic Files. The show ran Sundays in August and September then was picked up again for two Saturdays in October and two other hours to be aired later.

“It’s been a big success for both sides,” Zucker said Saturday. Forensic Files earned an average 8.4 million viewers overall and a 2.7/7 among adults 18-49 during its summer run. But Zucker stopped short of expecting more cable crossovers with Court TV or any other cable network.

“It was an experiment but something we will absolutely look at,” he said.

Evan Shapiro, SVP of marketing at Court TV, said Forensic Files’ success is recognition that “cable TV does not mean second-class.” He noted that the cable TV industry caught up and surpassed broadcast in share as a whole over the summer. Cable shows are also generating buzz that used to be reserved for network TV.

“Some of the most-talked about shows are not on broadcast anymore. They’re on cable,” Shapiro said. He said that it showed networks starting to realize that cable was serving audiences’ needs and increasing value for advertisers.

Shapiro said the networks’ use of crossovers helped them immensely.

“They saw a way to better demos, cheaply and quickly,” he said. NBC has been using Forensic Files in other ways beyond its original one-hour incarnation, using half-hour shows when they’re needed. And Dateline NBC has been pairing with Court TV for some reports for several years.

“[CBS President] Leslie Moonves and Jeff Zucker and Susan Lyne, when they need some really good, albeit fast, content, they go to cable,” Shapiro said.

It’s a pretty good trade for Court TV, Shapiro said. Through the deal, Court TV received tremendous promotion that it couldn’t afford to do on its own.

“It’s our recognition if you want to spread your work quickly, you need that kind of bandwidth. It’s great that we have friends like Jeff Zucker,” Shapiro said.

And the NBC/Court TV collaboration is helping to drive a much higher than average (and younger) audience to Forensic Files and the other investigative shows in Court TV’s primetime “Join The Investigation” programming block. The two-year-old Forensic Files has averaged a 1 share in reruns.

“We’re opening a great new show up to a whole new audience,” Shapiro said.

He said he believed cable was going to wind up repurposing network television shows for at least the short term but he felt that in the long-term, there will be just as many cable shows being repurposed into network TV.

“The quality of TV will increase,” he said.

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