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''Alias'' and ''24'' find new networks

”Alias” and ”24” find new networks. Here’s how ”Law & Order” changed the way you should channel surf

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Alias, Jennifer Garner
Alias: Byron J. Cohen

Forgot to set the VCR? No problem. Episodes of ”Charmed,” ”24,” and ”Alias” — among other shows — can be found on basic cable channels just days after airing in primetime. And the list of speedier repeats continues to grow: This week, ABC’s ”The View” has begun airing on A&E, and NBC’s ”Late Night with Conan O’Brien” can be seen on Comedy Central starting Sept. 3.

”Repurposing” TV shows is a handy trend for tube addicts, but why would the broadcast nets — steadily losing viewers to cable each year — want to share the eroding wealth? They’ve learned a lesson from ”Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf. ”When ‘Law & Order’ began airing in syndication on A&E, it exposed the program to a completely different audience,” says Bill Carroll, media consultant for Katz Television Group. Soon A&E fans were tuning in to NBC to catch new episodes of the cop drama, and the show’s already solid ratings grew.

But not every recycled show has experienced a boost in ratings. Though broadcasting ABC’s ”Once and Again” on the female-skewing Lifetime network may have seemed like a natural way to lure distaff fans, it didn’t save the show from getting axed by ABC, and UPN recently pulled its repeats of CBS’ ”The Amazing Race.”

Still, any downsides aren’t likely to stop the repurposing trend given cable’s ”insatiable appetite for new material,” says Carroll, ”kind of like the plant in ‘Little Shop of Horrors.”’ And it makes particularly good financial sense when the network and cable channel are owned by the same company (Fox and FX share ”24;” ABC and ABC Family air ”According to Jim” and ”Alias”)