'Criminal Minds' Off-Net to A&E, ION

CBS Television Distribution has struck separate cable and broadcast deals for off-net showings of Criminal Minds. A&E Network acquired Criminal Minds for cable, while ION Media Networks gets primetime broadcast rights. Both deals begin in 2009.

The Criminal deal gives A&E rights to exclusively run the FBI drama starting in September 2009, when it will be fully stripped. But starting in May 2009, A&E will run episodes from the show's first three seasons once weekly. The show is produced by ABC Studios in association with CBS Paramount Network Television.

The off-net series meshes well with A&E's other "justice" programs, and is a "perfect complement" to its earlier off-net acquisitions, CSI: Miami and The Sopranos, says Bob DeBitetto, A&E executive VP and general manager. DeBitetto called it a "strategic acquisition."

ION, meanwhile, has been stepping up its programming with shows such as Boston Legal, The Steve Harvey Show and Quantum Leap. The network, which registers barely a blip in Nielsens right now, will hold its upfront presentation May 1 in New York.

Also last week, A&E's sister network the History channel announced plans for Expedition: Stanley and Livingstone, from Survivor-famous Mark Burnett Productions. The series will follow five expert explorers retracing the treacherous route U.S. newsman Henry Morton Stanley took in looking for Dr. David Livingstone in Africa in 1869. The explorers will be given only a compass, map and Stanley's journal. Production on the series is slated to begin this fall with a goal of premiering the show in 2009.