USA Nabs 'NCIS: Los Angeles,' TNT Grabs 'Mentalist'

USA Network has already secured the exclusive off-network syndicated run of frosh drama "NCIS: Los Angeles" -- and at a near-record sum.

Cabler has agreed to pay CBS Television Distribution around $2.5 million per episode for the rights to the show, which will be available as a strip in fall 2013. As part of the deal, USA will be able to start airing weekly repeats of the show's first season starting in September 2011.

Deal comes after just seven episodes of "NCIS: Los Angeles" have run on CBS.

Execs at CBS TV Distribution couldn't remember any other new primetime series that had been sold into off-network syndication so fast. Given that a show usually needs to reach close to 100 episodes before it can be stripped, most distributors have to wait until it's clear that the program will air at least four seasons.

There's little doubt that "NCIS: Los Angeles" will last that long, given its early performance. Show has averaged 17 million viewers season to date and in viewers is the second highest rated drama in primetime, behind "NCIS."

Several networks expressed interest in "NCIS: Los Angeles," but when it became clear that the pricetag would soar north of $2 million per seg, that pretty much left USA and Turner.

As for "The Mentalist," Turner is believed to have paid between $2.2 million and $2.3 million an episode for the drama. Show, now in its second season on CBS, was a breakout hit for CBS last year. The high price tags for both "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "The Mentalist" have given studios a renewed optimistic view on primetime network TV's syndication potential.  

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Michael Schneider writes for B&C's sister publication Daily Variety.