Cable Nets Toss ABC a Lifeline

Struggling broadcast network ABC last week turned to cable programmers to help halt its ratings slide.

The Walt Disney Co.-owned broadcaster, in a rare reverse-repurposing deal, will televise USA Network's quirky detective series Monk
four days after the drama airs on the cable channel, in what is being called a four-week summer programming "experiment."

Earlier, ABC had announced a two-year distribution and production agreement with premium network Home Box Office's production arm, HBO Independent Productions, to create original series for over-the-air distribution.

ABC will air episodes of Monk
on Tuesdays, after it premieres on USA's Friday night slot for four weeks, beginning Aug. 13.

In selling the show to USA, series producer and ABC sister production company Touchstone Television retained repurposing rights to Monk
for ABC, network senior vice president of entertainment communications Kevin Brockman said.


Monk, which stars Tony Shalhoub as an obsessive-compulsive detective, is one of cable's highest-rated original series. Launched July 12, the series has averaged a 3.4 household rating while garnering very favorable critical reviews.

USA president Doug Herzog believes Monk's ABC runs will provide greater exposure for the show and for the network, without sabotaging its strong cable ratings.

"We would never do [repurposing] if we thought it would hurt our run," Herzog said. "I think Monk
has already established a pretty loyal audience.

"Hopefully [the ABC run] will enhance the series, and the people that we attract in this short, four-week experiment will continue to follow it when it comes back exclusively to USA."

Brockman would not rule out the possibility of future Monk
runs on ABC if the experiment proves successful.

Although USA will lose two weekly repeats of the show, Herzog doesn't think the repurposing arrangement will negatively affect advertising for the series.

"I think the show actually comes up a notch for advertisers because it's recognized by a broadcast network," Herzog said.

The USA-ABC pact is the second reverse-repurposing deal to be announced this summer. Court TV's most popular original series, Forensic Files, will get a second life on NBC for four Sunday nights, beginning Aug. 25

Typically, cable networks have repeated shows within days of their broadcast-network debuts. Among the practitioners of repurposing: Turner Network Television with The WB's Charmed; FX with Fox's 24; and ABC Family with ABC's Alias.


Under the HBO deal, HIP — which has developed such shows as Everybody Loves Raymond, Roc
and Martin
for broadcast-TV distribution — will provide ABC with a first look at all of its new projects, according to representatives from both parties.

ABC will provide "deficit financing" for all HIP projects through 2004, whether it airs them or not. In return, ABC will own all copyrights to the shows.

The agreement does not include options for such current HBO original series as The Sopranos, Sex and the City
or Six Feet Under.

ABC's Brockman said there's no specific number of projects guaranteed in the HIP deal, but the network is excited about the prospects of developing several quality shows.

For HBO, the agreement marks the first major move by new HBO CEO Chris Albrecht since he took over last month from Jeff Bewkes. Bewkes now heads up a new entertainment division for HBO parent company AOL Time Warner Inc.

Albrecht, who had been head of programming for the pay service, said one of his goals would be to expand the HBO brand beyond its pay TV roots. The deal provides both a financial supporter and a major distribution outlet for future projects, said HIP executive vice president, creative affairs, business and planning Russell Schwartz.

Although the unit doesn't have any new projects planned, Schwartz did say HIP has "some ideas of talent we'd like to work with and specific products that we'd like to pitch, but its premature to talk about anything specific."

By working with ABC, HBO bypassed its own sister broadcast network, The WB.

Turner Broadcasting System Inc. executive vice president of corporate communications Brad Turell said The WB never discussed a potential production deal with HBO, noting that funding future HIP projects would not have been financially viable.

"The WB's track record of developing hits targeted to our audience is as good as anybody's," Turell said. "We have great respect for the HBO guys, but that economic model does not make sense for The WB at this point in our life and development."

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.