Stations will have a lot of options for filling their off-net syndication needs in 2013 and beyond. Following the stunning success of ABC’s Modern Family, the growth of half-hour comedies on the networks is providing a new batch of shows for syndication. Right behind Twentieth Television’s Family are Sony Pictures Television’s Community, Twentieth’s The Cleveland Show, Warner Bros.’ The Middle and possibly Disney-ABC’s Cougar Town and NBC Universal’s Parks and Recreation.
The Laff Is Back: Sitcoms New Syndie Favs
The resurgence of the primetime sitcom is rippling through the off-net syndication market and giving TV stations a lot of options for 2013 and beyond.
At the leading edge is Twentieth Television’s Modern Family, which has already cleared stations covering 95% of U.S. TV homes for 2013. Right behind are Sony Pictures Television’s Community, Twentieth’s The Cleveland Show, Warner Bros.’ The Middle and possibly Disney-ABC’s Cougar Town and NBC Universal’s Parks and Recreation.
“All these shows will get on the air,” says Chuck Larsen, president of consulting firm October Moon Television. “The sitcom marketplace is healthy. Stations make money. Advertisers love sitcoms because they bring in a younger audience.”
Twentieth kicked off sales of Modern Family off-net deals early, and the show is locked up nearly two years before a single off-net episode will air — with good reason, too.
It’s the No. 2 primetime sitcom among adults 18-49 this season, behind only CBS’s Two and a Half Men.
“Modern Family is incredible,” says Greg Meidel, president of Twentieth Television. “A year ago, it was exciting when it won a few Emmys. But, then this year, it won almost every category and it premiered to phenomenal ratings. It’s a very special show for us.”
Stations are paying $1.5 million per episode, according to research firm SNL Kagan. That ties the recent near-record paydays for Warner Bros.’ Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory — the two highest-rated sitcoms in syndication today.
And barter ad sales could add another $1.5 million to the per-episode broadcast take, according to industry sources. Twentieth also sold Modern to USA for $1.4 million per episode for a simultaneous cable run starting in fall 2013.
Sony is actively talking to stations about Community (NBC), which will likely be sold on a barter-only basis. Twentieth will begin selling The Cleveland Show (Fox) to stations next spring, having already sold it to cable networks TBS and Adult Swim for fall 2013. And Warner Bros. is lining up stations for The Middle, the Patricia Heaton sitcom in its third season as part of ABC’s Wednesday comedy block.
“The types of comedies that are connecting with viewers revolve around families or substitute families with strong characters and relatable problems,” says Ken Werner, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. “They are resonating in the heart of the country as well as on the coasts. The Middle, as part of ABC’s Modern Family lineup, is one of those shows.”
Warner Bros. has not begun pitching The Middle to cable networks, but syndication watchers say the comedy could pair up well with Modern Family on USA.
Another off-net comedy for 2013 is likely to be Cougar Town. The Courteney Cox sitcom will return for its third season on ABC sometime in 2012. Disney-ABC says it has not begun talking to stations about the show.
Meanwhile, NBC Universal is undecided on whether it will take out Parks and Recreation (NBC) for fall 2013 or 2014.
On the off-cable side, Debmar-Mercury’s Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse, which debuts this month on TBS, could also be ready for stations in fall of 2013.
The broadcast networks are doing well with a handful of rookie and second-year sitcoms that may hit off-net syndication in 2014 or later.
Key among these is Warner Bros.’ Mike & Molly, which is now in its second season on CBS. Like Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, it is produced by Chuck Lorre. Twentieth Television’s sophomore Raising Hope on Fox may also churn out enough episodes to make it to syndication.
This fall’s new crop of shows has produced a few promising sitcoms, including Warner Bros.’s 2 Broke Girls (CBS) and Suburgatory (ABC). Twentieth has a hit with New Girl (Fox) and, less so, with Last Man Standing (ABC). NBCU’s Up All Night (NBC) is also doing fairly well.
This sitcom comeback is a boon to studios and syndicators, but also to stations, says Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at Horizon Media.
“We are seeing a resurgence, I think, because of the popularity of Modern Family, which has figured out what viewers think is funny,” he says. “This is excellent for stations. It’s easier to clear a 30-minute sitcom than a one-hour drama. And the studios can make a lot of money with comedies because they tend to have a longer shelf life than dramas.”
In contrast to 2013, the market for off-network for fall 2012 has been decidedly thin. The only broadcast show set to debut in syndication then is Sony’s Rules of Engagement (CBS), which has been cleared in 99% of TV homes.
Sony sold the show on a barter-only basis. Station groups picking it up include LIN, Meredith, Newport and Sinclair. Sony is also now talking to cable networks about the show.
Sony has been floating the idea of virtually replicating a CBS comedy block with Rules, Two and a Half Men, Big Bang and Twentieth’s How I Met Your Mother, according to syndication executives.
Also, Debmar-Mercury is selling TBS’s Are We There Yet? to stations for fall 2012.