'Bob’s Burgers' Expands, And Side Orders Do Too

Having passed the 100-episode mark, animated series Bob’s Burgers has taken the slow road to Cult-Hitsville.

The half-hour sitcom about an American family and their offbeat hamburger restaurant premiered in weekend syndication last fall following its initial launch in 2013 on Turner’s Adult Swim. The show is scoring a 1.7 live-plus-same-day household rating this season according to Nielsen Media Research, placing it among the top-tier of off-net sitcoms.

Like its older brother, Twentieth’s Family Guy, targeted exposure on cable to the young men who flock to tongue-in-cheek animated shows has led to greater success across different platforms. Fan demand around Bob’s Burgers also has allowed Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products to launch several lines of merchandising around it—including clothing lines, figurines, shoes, socks and much more—that will be on display at the Licensing Expo this week in Las Vegas.

“It all starts with the fans,” says Peter Leeb, the consumer products unit’s VP of global brand management, strategy and partnerships. “Bob’s has had this slow but incredible fan-base growth over the last five years.

“About a year ago, we started hearing more from the fans and feeding them with product opportunities. Since then, we’ve grown our product partnership business to about 15 partners with mass retail chains, such as Kohl’s, calling us up and asking for Bob’s Burgers because their customers are asking for it.”

Among young men 18-34, Bob’s Burgers tied Twentieth’s The Cleveland Show for third place among all syndicated programs at a 1.3 season-to-date average through the week ended May 29, behind only Twentieth’s Family Guy at a 2.0 and Warner Bros.’ The Big Bang Theory at a 1.7. Bob’s is also turning in solid performances across all of the young demographics, tying with Warner Bros.’ 2 Broke Girls for the lead among new syndicated shows among adults 18-49.

Bob’s Burgers, created by Loren Bouchard, recently passed its 100th episode milestone on Fox after a slow start early on. The 100-episode level is typically when sitcoms go into strip syndication, and the series’ performance on weekends is leading Fox distribution arm Twentieth Television to consider that, according to Twentieth spokesman Craig Radow.

Merchandising opportunities around the show have exploded in the past year, led by the publishing of The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book, a cookbook of burger recipes by fan and blogger Cole Bowden. Every week, Bob’s Burgers posts a joke burger on its in-show chalkboard by Bob’s cash register. These joke burgers usually consist of not-very-good puns, such as “Don’t You Four Cheddar About Me Burger” and “Free to Brie You and Me.”

Bowden took the jokes and turned them into real burgers—recipes for which can be read on his Tumblr blog at TheBobsBurgerExperiment or on The New York Times best-selling recipe book, which Bouchard asked Bowden to create with him and the show’s writers.

Over the past year, the series’ cast has toured the stage show Bob’s Burgers Live. That show involved the cast—which includes H. Jon Benjamin as Bob; John Roberts as his wife, Linda; and their kids—Kristen Schaal as Louise, Dan Mintz as Tina and Eugene Miman as Gene—doing a table read of one of the show’s scripts as well as stand-up comedy, exclusive sneak peeks from upcoming episodes, and a Q&A with the audience. Two recent shows in Los Angeles sold out.

From the consumer-products perspective, Bob’s Burgers is just beginning to build its empire, very intentionally following in the footsteps of Twentieth’s other super-successful sitcoms The Simpsons and Family Guy.

“We’ve been methodical with this show in the vein of The Simpsons,” Leeb says. “We use our products as a marketing vehicle for the show on whatever platform they appear. They’ve done so well in the specialty market that they are becoming a proven commodity.”

The show’s biggest retailer is Hot Topics, which is dedicated to fan fashion. In advance of Bob’s Burgers Live, the retailer conducted a contest across 650 stores, asking fans to post a video on Instagram or Twitter with an impersonation of their favorite Belcher. The winner received an all-expense-paid trip to L.A. to see the live show.

A contest for fans to submit their Bob’s Burgers T-shirt suggestions to Threadless just closed, with the winner to receive $2,000 and a $500 gift code to the website, which sells products created by artists. Pop! animation figurines of the Belcher family are available from Funko, while another line of figures are coming from Kid Robot later this year. Other products include a variety of shoes from Esquire Footwear; home novelty items from Surreal Entertainment; Halloween costumes from Rasta Imposta; greeting cards from Hallmark; and apparel and accessories from Ripple Junction.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for more than 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for The Global Entertainment Marketing Academy of Arts & Sciences (G.E.M.A.). She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997 - September 2002.