- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Crime doesn’t pay

Here’s a twist that basic cable networks didn’t see coming: audiences leaving police procedurals.

Off-network reruns of crime dramas on TNT, Spike TV, A&E; and USA Network are losing viewers, particularly in younger demographics, TVWeek.com reports.

Procedurals, or police dramas with self-contained episodes that track the solving of a crime from beginning to end, have served as ratings drivers for several top-ranked general entertainment basic cable networks. For years, channels like USA and TNT have anted up multimillion-dollar license fees for the off-network syndication runs of series such as “Law & Order,” “CSI” and their spinoffs. The acquisitions provide not only large sources of advertising revenue but also promotional platforms for the networks’ own original shows.

But in household viewership this year to date, “Law & Order” on TNT is down 15 percent compared to last year’s figures, according to Nielsen Media Research. On Spike TV, “CSI” is down 15 percent. On USA, “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” is down 8 percent and “Law & Order: SVU” is down 2 percent. Elsewhere, A&E;’s “Cold Case Files” is down 13 percent, “Crossing Jordan” is down 17 percent and “CSI: Miami” is down 22 percent.

“With ‘Law & Order,’ a gradual decline has been going on for two years now,” said Tim Brooks, Lifetime’s head of research. “But in the past six to eight months, it’s started happening with the ‘CSI’s too. The 18-to-49s are the first to leave. Then when the older viewers start to leave, you’re in trouble.”

Waning audience interest in the format could be disastrous for several networks.

For the second quarter, TNT just reclaimed the basic cable top spot from second-place USA Network, with Spike TV ranked sixth and A&E; 11th among adults 18 to 49. All owe a sizable degree of their prime-time viewership to procedural acquisitions, notes TVWeek.com.

Still, saturation of the genre will only increase. Industry faith in the format has left several networks on the hook for new shows. A&E; Networks will add “CSI: Miami” later this year for a reported $1 million per episode. “Cold Case” joins TNT next year at $1.4 million per episode. In 2008, Spike gets “CSI: NY” ($1.9 million) and USA gains “NCIS” ($750,000).

A spokesman for Spike TV said the decline of “CSI” is “expected and normal.”

At USA, a spokesperson pointed out the year-to-date 8 percent decline for “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” is offset by the fact the network has aired 28 percent more episodes of the show in 2006. Plus, the program’s 18-to-49 demographic rating has increased 2 percent.

TNT and A&E; declined to comment.

Meanwhile, not all basic cable networks have jumped on the procedural bandwagon. FX managed to climb into the top five among prime-time viewers 18-to-49 with a policy against expensive crime drama acquisitions.

“We placed our bets on not buying these because we believe there’s going to be too many of them,” said John Landgraf, president and general manager of FX. “It’s been a fantastic strategy for those who got in early. For those who got in late, or for those who went back to the well for second or third helpings, we don’t see it as something that’s going to pan out.”

Yet despite their off-net syndication erosion, procedurals remain the most popular genre on television. The highest-rated scripted series on basic cable is TNT’s crime drama “The Closer,” while CBS’s “CSI” regular tops the broadcast charts.

Clear skies for FX

The second-season premiere of FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” featuring Danny DeVito, garnered 1.6 million total viewers Thursday night, 46 percent more than the average audience during the show’s first season, according to TVWeek.com.

The second episode, also seen Thursday evening, retained almost all of the premiere’s audience, holding on to 1.5 million viewers.

“Sunny” represents an attempt by FX to break a jinx that has kept scripted comedy from growing as a genre on basic cable channels. For the second season, “Sunny” added Mr. DeVito to the cast to help draw a wider viewership — just as the addition of Glenn Close to the cast of FX’s “The Shield” helped that show.

Season 3 for ‘Closer’

Speaking of “The Closer,” TNT — in a move that comes as no surprise to anyone tracking the show’s ratings success — is picking up the aforementioned show for a third season, reports MediaWeek.com.

Turner Network Television has ordered 15 new episodes of the original detective series starring Kyra Sedgwick, with an eye toward running them next summer.

After topping the Nielsen ratings as the most-watched drama on ad-supported cable last summer, “Closer” returned for its second season two weeks ago, luring a record 8.3 million total viewers.

The series has also proven to be a stong draw for TNT’s target demo, delivering an average 2.3 million adults 18 to 49 season-to-date.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from Web and wire reports.

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