CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- TNT has scooped up the off-network rights to ABC's "Alias" in a deal valued at a modest $17.6 million.
The pact gives the cable channel the exclusive weekday rights to the series beginning in the fall of 2005, with the option to air the drama up to 10 times per week. Distributor Buena Vista Television will deliver at least 88 episodes to TNT, virtually ensuring "Alias" will return for a fourth season on ABC.
TNT will pay roughly $200,000 per episode for "Alias," making it the least the network has paid for an off-network run in recent memory. Recent pacts by the cable channel include $1.35 million per episode for "Without a Trace," $900,000 per episode for "ER," $800,000 per episode for "Law & Order," $700,000 per episode for "N.Y.P.D. Blue" (split with Court TV), $600,000 per episode for "Charmed," $550,000 per episode for "The X-Files" (split with Sci Fi Channel) and $250,000 per episode for "Angel."
Industry insiders say the show's disappointing showing in the off-network market in no doubt tied to its serial nature, as storylines generally extend beyond individual episodes. Such a practice causes repeats of "Alias" to perform significantly below its first-run installments whereas more stand alone series like "Law & Order" and "Without a Trace" often see repeats perform on par with their original broadcasts. Acquisition executives also saw the poor showing of "Alias'" repurposed run on ABC Family in 2002 as proof positive of the show's limited syndication value.
On ABC "Alias" has averaged a solid but unspectacular 8.2 million viewers this season. More importantly though, the series has averaged a 3.4 rating/8 share among adults 18-49 in its Sunday, 9:00/8:00c slot, good enough for second place in the time period. Said figure certainly makes "Alias" an attractive series for TNT, which currently ranks as the most-watched cable network among total viewers, adults 18-49 and adults 25-54.
Nevertheless, Buena Vista was reportedly looking to earn close to $1 million per episode for the drama when it began pitching cable networks six months ago. The distributor will try to make up some additional revenue by trying to sell "Alias'" weekend rights to local stations across the country for fall 2005.