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'Without a Trace' was a costly bet for TNT


TNT's slogan is "We Know Drama," but maybe the cable channel doesn't know drama as well as it thinks it does. On Wednesday, TNT parent Time Warner disclosed in its fourth-quarter report that TNT had to write down more than $100-million on its purchase of repeat rights to the old CBS crime show "Without a Trace."

The channel, which has had big success with its steady diet of "Law & Order" reruns, was not so lucky with "Without a Trace," a drama about the FBI's Missing Person Unit, that ran on CBS from 2002 through last year. TNT bought the reruns for the show, which starred Anthony LaPaglia, in 2003 for about $1.4 million per episode. The write-down was for $104 million.

While "Without a Trace" had some strong years on CBS, by the time the show made its rerun debut on TNT in 2004, it had already started to fade.

There is always a risk in buying reruns. Although some shows, such as "Law & Order," live on for years (or decades), others have a much shorter lifespan. In buying the rerun rights to "Without a Trace" so soon after it had premiered on CBS, TNT was betting that it too would have staying power.

TNT bought the show from its sister company Warner Bros., which no doubt bet right in selling reruns so soon after its network debut. When to sell a show is also complicated. CBS has already sold rerun rights to "NCIS Los Angeles" to USA for more than $2 million, even though the show is only in its first season.

Of course, sometimes it is better to wait. A&E got a big bargain by buying rights to the CBS hit "Criminal Minds" for less than $1 million per episode before that drama became the massive hit it is today.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: The cast of "Without a Trace," from left: Enrique Murciano, Poppy Montgomery, Anthony LaPaglia, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Eric Close. Credit: CBS 

Comments () | Archives (7)

For the longest time, TNT had Without a Trace on at 3am in our area ---this really limits the amount of people watching! Maybe if they kept it on during the day, they would not have had such a large loss. I thought it was a great show (and it is beyond me why they haven't released it on DVD past seasons 1 and 2 in the U.S.---there are fans waiting to buy).

I agree...WAT was a great show...it left CBS way too soon. Mainly all because of MONEY!! I don't know what CBS and Warner Bros. think they are doing? They ruined a perfectly great TV shows which was in great rankings almost each and every week. They sell it as reruns....and now that has been dumped!! Where are the DVD Seasons 3-7 that many fans in the US want to buy!! We miss all the reruns that we now cannot watch anymore!! What are you waiting for more money on another front somewhere?

Yes, where are the dvds? I put my name on a waiting list somewhere forever ago and have yet to hear anything... Glad to know I'm not the only one waiting!

I miss "WAT". Enjoyed it immensely - then after a while it was on at weird times. Please forgive but the same with Cold Case. The networks destroy the shows by putting them on at weird hours.

WAT was some of the very best TV.

I had knee surgery and while I was recovering I watched, for the first time, "Without a Trace". Now I am hooked, I am back to work and DVR all the episodes so I can watch them when I have time. Love it!! I am sure more people will be finding it also!!

If there was only a way Usa Network could just purchase the rights to all of the csi,ncis, Criminal Minds and without a trace show and place on just one station and oh yes let's not forget Monk as well


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