November 2, 2005

NBC Universal to launch crime-themed cable channel

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Just when detective dramas appear
to be wearing thin with prime-time television viewers, NBC
Universal unveiled plans on Wednesday to start a cable channel
devoted to TV cops and robbers of yesteryear.

The 24-hour Sleuth network, offering such Universal library
titles as "Miami Vice" and "The A-Team," will launch January 1
through a distribution deal with Time Warner Cable that will
initially reach just over 5 million homes.

The channel also will carry crime- and mystery-themed
titles from Universal's catalog of feature films, among them
"Scarface," "The Jackal," "Casino," "Sneakers" and "Mercury
Rising." Documentaries and reality shows will be added in the
future, the company said.

NBC Universal, the media and entertainment division of
General Electric Co., has no plans to make any current shows
from its flagship broadcast network, NBC, available on its new
cable outlet.

NBC's "Law & Order" and its two prime-time spin-offs,
"Special Victims Unit" and "Criminal Intent," already are
licensed for reruns on the USA and TNT cable networks, owned by
NBC Universal and Time Warner Inc., respectively.

Instead, Sleuth will begin by featuring reruns of classic
crime-fighting dramas from the 1980s.

In addition to "Miami Vice," "The A-Team" and "Knight
Rider," which all originally aired on NBC, Sleuth's initial
lineup will include reruns of two '80s-era shows that once ran
on CBS -- "The Equalizer" and "Simon & Simon."

"About 60 percent of the product was originally on NBC,"
said Jeff Gaspin, president of NBC Universal cable

NBC Universal's bid to create a niche channel devoted to
reruns of old cops and crime shows comes at a time when many of
the police "procedural" dramas that swept prime time in recent
years are experiencing a ratings slump.

While the saturation of crime-solving dramas on network TV
has made it difficult for some shows to sustain a mass
audience, Gaspin said the smaller-scale economics of cable TV
favor a venture like Sleuth.

"The difference here is you're talking about a service
that's 24/7 for a particular genre in a marketplace that is
about niche programming, and this is a fairly large niche,"
Gaspin said. "So you don't need a huge amount of people to
watch your network at any given time to create a business."

Within months of its launch, the channel plans to offer
standard and high-definition digital versions of its telecasts
and a video-on-demand service allowing subscribers to order
some shows whenever they want to see them.

NBC Universal's current roster of cable TV properties
includes MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, Sci Fi and the USA networks, each
with a subscriber base -- roughly 80 to 90 million -- that
dwarfs the initial reach of Sleuth.