CBS said it will begin showing episodes of "Dexter," the drama from sibling cable network Showtime about a Miami forensics expert who is actually a serial killer with a unique moral code: He kills only murderers who, for various reasons, cannot be brought to justice. The network said the 12-episode first season of "Dexter" will be edited for network TV and run Sundays between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. EST starting Feb. 17. The drama recently completed its second season on Showtime.
The question, of course, is whether marketers will want to align themselves with programming that is bound to be a bit edgier than the network-TV norm -- even though the ongoing writers' strike has crimped production of original episodes of many network-TV favorites.
"It's a little tough. You have to deal with it on a client-by-client basis," said John Miles, director-investments at WPP Group's Mediacom. "If they did some editing the way A&E has edited 'The Sopranos' [from HBO], it's doable. I'd have to look at a couple of episodes to really have an informed opinion."
Never intended to attract ads
The maneuver brings a drama that has garnered critical buzz and a small but devoted audience and plops it on a broadcast network aimed at bringing in the biggest number of viewers possible. On Showtime, "Dexter" was never intended to attract ads; as a premium cable network like HBO, Showtime doesn't run them. On CBS, however, "Dexter" will have to be palatable to big marketers such as Procter & Gamble and General Motors that depend on the network to reach millions of people in entertaining but inoffensive ways.
CBS made the decision to run the program as it faces a dearth of original episodes of its best-known programs thanks to the ongoing writers strike, which began Nov. 5. The network said the appearance of "Dexter" on its air marks the first time a full season of a premium-cable drama series will make the move to network TV. CBS CEO Leslie Moonves hinted that the network was mulling the idea in December.
Many cable dramas -- from "The Shield" to "Army Wives" -- make TV critics swoon. The plots are often more inventive and less formulaic than what appears on broadcast networks, and the characters are more flawed and colorful. But cable networks such as FX and Lifetime aim at niche consumer audiences and tailor programming for specific demographic groups who are likely to be drawn in, not repulsed, by what takes place onscreen. As a cable drama, "Dexter" will have to work harder while running on CBS.
"If it's cleaned up," marketers would consider "Dexter" as an ad vehicle, said Jason Kanefsky, senior VP-group account director at Havas' MPG. "You'd have to screen it, obviously," but at a time when there's less and less worth watching on network TV, marketers are seeking good properties. Despite the violence and flawed protagonist of "Dexter," he said, advertisers and viewers need to keep one thing in mind: "It's TV. It's not real."