Television viewers aren't the only ones captivated by CBS' summer experiment with "Under the Dome."
The series based on the Stephen King thriller has shattered summer viewership standards, with more than 11 million people tuning in each week for the next installment. On Wednesday, Wall Street analysts were also clamoring for more details about CBS' efforts to create a new business model for event programming.
CBS designed the sci-fi drama -- which costs nearly $3.5 million an episode to produce -- to be profitable from Day One.
Key to the arrangement was a deal that CBS struck with Amazon.com four months before "Under the Dome" debuted in late June. The network agreed to make episodes available exclusively to Amazon.com subscribers a few days after they aired on CBS -- substantially compressing broadcast TV's exclusive window.
"Because of the Amazon deal and because of the international sales, we were able to make the show profitable even before it went on the air," CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves boasted Wednesday during a conference call with analysts to discuss CBS earnings.
"Now the fact that it is a huge hit is really almost gravy. It will bring in a ton of profits into the third quarter," Moonves said.
CBS earlier this week renewed the 13-episode series to return next year. The audience grows to as much as 20 million viewers an episode when factoring in the people who digitally record the show and watch it later.
"Under the Dome" takes place in a small American town that is suddenly and inexplicably sealed off from the rest of the world by a gigantic transparent dome. Trapped inside the bubble, residents must grapple with post-apocalyptic conditions.
The drama, which was shot in North Carolina, is based on a bestselling Stephen King novel by the same name and produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and CBS Studios.
CBS Corp.'s Simon & Schuster was the book publisher.
Broadcast networks long ago abandoned ambitious original scripted shows to launch in the summer. Instead, they have held back their most promising projects for the fall to kick off the traditional TV season. But, by stocking summer schedules with cheaper reality shows and reruns of scripted shows, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox have witnessed an exodus of viewers and ceded fertile ground to cable channels that offered original programming during the summer.
CBS' success with "Under the Dome" might change that.
"'Under the Dome' is an exciting new model," Moonves said. "We haven't done -- nor has anybody done -- an original drama of this size in many, many years.
"That show is going to be very profitable for years to come and it is the greatest way to invest our money," Moonves said.