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A&E, WGN Snare Fox’s 24

A&E Network and Superstation WGN are counting down the hours until they can air Fox Broadcasting Co.’s serial suspense series, 24, in syndication.

Through deals with Twentieth Television, both networks in the fall of 2005 will gain access to the series, starring Keifer Sutherland as government agent Jack Bauer, who has saved the life of a president and thwarted bioterrorist and nuclear attacks during the show’s first three seasons.

A&E senior vice president of programming Bob DeBitetto said the network, starting next September, has exclusive Monday-Friday rights to the series, save for Fox’s airing of new episodes of 24, the fourth season of which premieres in January.

DeBitetto added that A&E can also air the show on a nonexclusive basis on weekends.

For its part, WGN announced Thursday that it has acquired the rights to the first three seasons of 24, and it anticipates airing the show on Sundays.

DeBitetto would not pinpoint A&E’s intentions, but he said, “There’s no question that the serialized content works against presenting the show in a traditional five-night-per-week format. We’re thinking about vertical showings and some marathons, as FX did successfully in the past. [Twentieth] has given us great flexibility with the show.”

He added that A&E would work with Fox to develop “expanded openings” to introduce or reintroduce viewers to various story lines.

Another scheduling possibility: pairing 24 installments with CSI: Miami when that show joins A&E’s schedule in 2006.

That companion tactic is one CBS owned-and-operated stations are expected to deploy with the two series.