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'Ghost’ With the Most

CBS Television Distribution is on a roll lately, selling Everybody Hates Chris, Criminal Minds and now Ghost Whisperer to both broadcast and cable networks in lucrative deals.

Ghost Whisperer, which CBS both produces and airs, went for close to $700,000 an episode in a three-network deal last week that includes broadcast network Ion and cable networks NBC Universal’s Sci Fi and  Rainbow-owned WE: Women’s Entertainment.

“The beauty of this is that we did extensive research and found that there’s very little crossover between the audiences of these three networks,” says Scott Koondel, executive VP of off-network, cable and interactive media for CBS Television Distribution. “We thought that would be the best way to monetize this show.”

Ghost Whisperer, which anchors CBS’ successful Friday night lineup, stars Jennifer Love Hewitt as a newlywed who talks to dead people to help the living. The show is based on the experience of executive producer and creator James Van Praagh, who modeled Love Hewitt’s character after Ohio-based medium Mary Ann Winkowski.

The show is a modest hit, averaging 8.6 million viewers to date and a 2.4 rating/8 share among adults 18-49, according to Nielsen Media Research. That puts the show in 65th place among all TV shows in viewers and 94th among adults 18-49, but it also wins its Friday 8 p.m. time slot across all demographics. Over the three years the show has been on the air, it’s held its own against such tough competition as ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, which now airs on Monday and Tuesday nights.

Ghost Whisperer should prove an appealing program for all audiences because of its attractive star and its multi-faceted subject matter, Koondel says.

“The show is about a strong woman who owns her own business and is married to a firefighter, so women relate to that. It’s family-oriented so it’s perfect for Ion. And it offers scary stories and high-end special effects so it fits into Sci Fi’s mission,” he says.

In fact, when CBS took the show out, it tailored its pitches to the network to which it was presenting. CBS thought women who watched WE, Oxygen or Lifetime would enjoy the show, while men who tune into anything from USA to Spike to G4 would be interested.

When it came time to do a deal, everyone agreed the show could work for each of them in different ways. WE and Sci Fi each are likely to double-run Ghost Whisperer once a week in primetime, while Ion will strip it in fall 2009.

“A good off-net acquisition like Ghost Whisperer and Lost, which we’ll premiere this fall, acts as a foundation off which a channel can build,” says Thomas Vitale, Sci Fi’s senior VP of programming and original movies. “We’re going to have people watching Ghost Whisperer on Sci Fi who have heard how good it is but who aren’t watching it on the network.”

Ghost Whisperer is just the most recent of several off-net cable deals secured by CBS. Last week, both A&E and Ion announced they had acquired the rights to Criminal Minds, CBS’ graphic drama that focuses on an elite group of FBI profilers, which is a strong Wednesday night performer. All told, Criminal Minds sold for approximately $1 million an episode, with about $700,000 of that coming from A&E.

While that’s a strong sale for the show, it’s far less than the $1.4 million TNT anted up for Cold Case in 2004 and Without a Trace in 2003. On the flip side, TNT only paid $450,000 an episode for Twentieth’s Bones, which began airing on the top cable network in January.