That pesky TV viewing audience: still committed to leaving the house on weekends. But rather than run Titanic for the umpteenth time to fill unwatched slots, networks have taken a page from the HBO handbook and ratcheted up the ''repurposing'' otherwise known as reruns.
In its heyday, Saturday-night TV was the place for addictively lightweight original programming that made it okay to stay home: Think Fantasy Island. But in the '90s, weekends becamea compost heap filled with the remains of date-night movies. Lately, it's become a time to catch up on the past week's Desperate Housewives, Survivor, or The Apprentice, or sink your teeth into CBS' ''Crimetime Saturday'' with repeats of shows like Without a Trace and CSI.
While it's nice to think the nets are recycling buzz shows to give busy viewers a second chance, let's be honest: It comes down to cost efficiency. ''I'd love to have 22 hours of original programming, 52 weeks a year, no repeats of anything, ever. But financially, that's just not possible,'' says NBC VP Mitch Metcalf. And despite a slight drop in ratings (averaging 5.5 million viewers for ''Crimetime,'' for example, as opposed to 6.5 million for an original like The District), repurposing is clearly the profitable choice. ''It becomes really tough economically to justify why you're making a $1.8 million drama for a time period with so few viewers,'' says The WB's chairman, Garth Ancier. ''[Reruns are] a way of getting more value for a very expensive product.'' And somewhere, James Cameron sheds a silent tear.