Nellie Andreeva

In an arrangement that reflects the changing off-network options for serialized dramas, CBS’ The Good Wife has been sold in a complex multi-window deal that involves two streaming partners, Amazon and Hulu; a basic cable network, Hallmark Channel; and broadcast syndication, for what I hear is a combined license fee of nearly $2 million per episode. “This is an off-network model for a unique serialized show in today’s television ecosystem,” said Leslie Moonves, President and CEO, CBS Corp.

Under the deal, the first three seasons of The Good Wife will become available on Amazon Prime tomorrow, with the current Season 4 coming later this year. Hulu Plus will roll out previous seasons of the show in September 2013, while Hallmark Channel will begin airing The Good Wife in January 2014. A weekend broadcast syndication run is scheduled to begin in September 2014, with the series sold in 85% of the country, including the CBS O&Os, in a barter deal.

While procedurals that repeat well remain the holy grail for network drama in terms of syndication value, serialized shows with smaller but loyal audiences, once considered a non-starter when it comes to syndication, have found a whole new world of possibilities with the emergence of digital platforms where serialized dramas thrive. It took awhile for The Good Wife to sell, and it didn’t go to a top-tier basic cable network, but when all windows are factored in, its syndication value is not that far off from what some procedurals bring in. Three CBS dramas — NCIS: LA, Hawaii Five-0 (produced by CBS TV Studios), and The Mentalist (produced by Warner Bros TV) — hold the record for cable syndication license fees, all selling for north of $2 million an episode, in addition to broadcast syndication deals.

CBS has been reluctant to make previous seasons of existing series available online, with The Good Wife setting a precedent. It may soon be followed by others and Moonves recently hinted to investors that the company is eying such deals for multiple CBS and Showtiume series.

With the Amazon Prime SVOD deal kicking in tomorrow, CBS brass are hoping for an immediate effect. The rationale is that binge-viewing customers are so accustomed to such platforms, as evidenced by Breaking Bad on Netflix, it would send new viewers to The Good Wife‘s original telecasts on CBS the way it happened with Breaking Bad on AMC, which has been sizzling since the series’ previous seasons became available for streaming. Unfortunately, there won’t be much time to test the effect of the off-network run on the CBS airings this season as the legal drama is the first CBS series slated to wrap its season on April 28. But the critically praised series is a prestige piece for the network, and, since it is also owned by CBS and now has an off-network income stream coming in, it is fully expected to return next fall.

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