Conan O'Brien fans won't need to lose sleep or remember to program video recorders with Comedy Central's announcement this week that it will soon rerun his NBC show the next night.
It's the latest example of repurposing, television's hottest trend. For more and more programs, viewers no longer have to wait six months - or in vain - for another opportunity to see an episode on the air.
ABC recently said it would air next-day reruns of the daytime talk show "The View" on the A&E cable network. It also allows reruns of "Once and Again" on Lifetime and of "The Job" on Comedy Central. Two other shows - "According to Jim" and "Alias" - are shown on the affiliated ABC Family network.
Fox's serial drama "24" is aired twice a week on cable's FX and, until recently, a second time on the broadcast network.
CBS is showing reruns of its reality show "The Amazing Race" on its corporate cousin UPN network two nights after the Wednesday first run.
The need to attract attention, save money and respond to new technology are fueling the repurposing run, forcing television executives to explore ideas they've resisted in the past.
"Two, three years from now, everybody will wonder why we didn't do a lot more of this before," said Jamie Kellner, Turner Broadcasting System chairman.
With the cost of producing and licensing TV series escalating, networks need to find other ways to make money off their programs, he said. The recent advertising sales slump has made that even more urgent.
Kellner admires the way HBO reruns its series several times a week to make it more convenient for subscribers.
Even though digital video recorders like Tivo have yet to take off in the marketplace, the freedom they offer viewers to build their own schedules is something that scares many network executives.
"We have a very unfriendly model right now, and it's rooted in just the way television has always been," Kellner said. "You put it on, you show it one time, you sit back for six months and you run it off in a repeat cycle. I don't think we're serving the viewers particularly well."
Kellner reruns the WB network's "Charmed" on TNT and said it has increased the show's weekly viewership about 20 percent. He'd like to repurpose more WB shows but can't convince wary producers, whose resistance has kept repurposing from spreading even more widely.
Take this quiz: Say a series airs once a week on a broadcast network and is seen by 10 million people. A similar series gets 8 million viewers on a broadcaster and 4 million more on cable reruns. Which is better?
The answer might seem obvious - 12 million beats 10 million every time. But some networks and producers are concerned that repurposing will lower the audience for a show's first run, and that's the one they sell commercials for.
"It took a long time to convince ABC that it would not hurt 'The View,'" said Allen Sabinson, senior vice president of programming at A&E, who sealed that network's repurposing deal.
It's also why CBS, for example, has moved slowly, with only one repurposing deal. NBC has also been cautious; it agreed to deals for O'Brien's show and Carson Daly's even later talk show because of their unusual hours. The only other repurposing deals it has - for "Law and Order: SVU" and "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" on USA - were basically done "at gunpoint" in a deal with the producer, said Scott Sassa, NBC West Coast president.
A&E's research showed that three out of four people who are watching television at 7 p.m., when "The View" reruns will be shown, are not watching TV at 11 a.m., when the original airs, he said.
That's the big argument in favor of repurposing: It will expose programs to people who might not normally watch them, building their audiences long-term.
For the cable networks, repurposing provides recognizable, high-quality shows cheaper than they can make them. A&E was searching for a show that appealed to women leading in to its "Biography" series at 8 p.m., since its syndication contract for old "Law and Order" reruns had run out, Sabinson said.
Similarly, Comedy Central has pursued repurposing to add variety to its schedule and to support network shows that it likes. But Comedy Central has turned down more proposals than it has accepted, said Bill Hillary, the network's executive vice president.
"If we do it too much, it could actually hurt us, because we're kind of the anti-network network," Hillary said.
Comedy Central will show O'Brien's show in the early evenings starting Sept. 3.
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