TNT Finds Place for 'Trace’

The drama network is about to make a dramatic scheduling move. Beginning June 5, Turner Network Television will slot in Without a Trace in the 7 p.m. hour, subbing the Anthony LaPaglia-starring vehicle for one of the many hours occupied by the Law & Order franchise.

Steve Koonin, executive vice president and general manager of TNT and TBS, said the plan calls for Without a Trace to be stripped weeknights at that time. The show will also be stacked on Wednesdays, with additional airings in the 8 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. hours.

“This was planned years ago. We want to keep things fresh, create a new buzz with viewers,” Koonin said, noting that Turner takes the long view with syndication deals. “We look to shows that not only make big news in their first couple of runs, but will still be making noise in their 31st run.”

TNT purchased the rights to Without A Trace in 2003 from corporate sibling Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution for a reported $1.35 million per episode in October 2003, gaining repurposing rights the following fall, when TNT began airing the show at 11 p.m. on Monday nights in September 2004.

Year-to-date through May 22, Without a Trace was up 4% among households to 1.19 million and 4% with viewers 2+ to 2.28 million, compared with the same period in 2005, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

Koonin expects it to perform strongly in its new home.

“The show is doing extremely well on CBS; it’s in the top 5,” he said. “Without a Trace has been going up against [NBC’s] ER [in the 10 p.m. hour on Thursdays]. This will provide a place for a lot of new people to see it.”

As has been the case throughout its multiple runs on the schedule, Law & Order has sustained significant ratings erosion this season, albeit from a very high base: the first quarter of 2005 marked the highest-rated quarter for the procedural since it’s been on TNT’s air.

On a year-to-date basis through May 22, L&O declined 11% in households (to 1.49 million from 1.69 million); 11% among persons 2+ (to 1.89 million from 2.13 million); 26% among adults 18 to 49 (to 693,000 from 933,000); and 25% among adults 25 to 54 (785,000 from 1.05 million).

Koonin said L&O remains a very strong franchise, but is feeling a procedural pinch in the timeslot: both spin-off Law & Order: Criminal Intent, on USA Network, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, on Spike TV, air in the 7 p.m. hour

Law & Order has dominated the drama pie for several years. But there is increased competition, so it’s logical it’s not going to get as big a piece of the pie,” he said, adding that the show will continue to populate many time slots on the net’s schedule. “Law & Order has been, is and will be a key for TNT.”

Looking ahead to fall 2007, TNT could also move another procedural into its evening lineup. Cold Case, which is being repurposed on Tuesdays at 11 p.m., becomes available for a more extended play at the juncture. “We can adapt the same plan,” said Koonin.