Chasing 'Two and a Half Men'–Style Highs

Notwithstanding the recent public outbursts of its star, Charlie Sheen, and current shutdown of production, Warner Bros.’ Two and a Half Men is syndication’s top sitcom by a long shot, averaging a 6.0-plus average live plus same day household rating, according to Nielsen. That’s two full ratings points ahead of what the No. 2- rated syndie sitcom, Twentieth’s Family Guy, does on any given week.

Even if Two and a Half Men ends its run now, it’s expected to have a long and high-rated life in syndication, no matter how many original episodes end up being available. What’s more, stations have a decent amount of off-net sitcoms headed down the pike.

One factor that’s probably mitigating the worries of Warner Bros.’ executives and Two and a Half Men executive producer Chuck Lorre is the fact that The Big Bang Theory, also created and produced by Lorre, has been sold to TV stations for prices similar to Men’s and will debut in syndication this fall. While it’s unlikely that Bang will open to ratings as high as Men’s, the show is expected to turn in a profi table performance from the get-go and build from there.

In fact, this fall TV station schedules are crowded with syndicated sitcoms: Bang will be joined by NBCU’s 30 Rock as well as Twentieth’s American Dad, Futurama, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Sony’s ’Til Death.

Two years after that, Twentieth will launch Modern Family into syndication. That show has already been sold for $1.4-plus million per episode to NBC Universal’s USA Network in a preemptive bid. Twentieth already has cleared the show in 75% of the country, and has secured the co-owned Fox TV stations as its launch group for some $600,000 an episode.

The year 2013 is also potentially crowded, with Twentieth’s The Cleveland Show, Warner Bros.’ The Middle, ABC Studios’ Cougar Town, NBCU’s Parks and Recreation and Sony’s Community all syndication possibilities. While Modern Family is sold and Cleveland Show is a sure thing, the already-renewed Middle’s and Cougar Town’s syndication status will depend on their year-three performances. The status of both Parks and Recreation and Community —both less-watched critical darlings—is uncertain due to their middling ratings and the changing of NBC’s executive guard.

“The off-net business is a good business,” says Paul Franklin, Twentieth’s executive VP/GM. “These shows are the bread and butter of stations that buy them. With Big Bang anchoring in 2011 and Modern Family in 2013, these stations are primed for success, regardless of what happens with Two and a Half Men. And that show isn’t going anywhere.”

That Big Bang and Modern Family are launching within two years of each other also helps mitigate the pain of possibly losing a season of Two and a Half Men. Toprated “A” sitcoms are typically few and far between: Men and Family Guy launched in 2007. Prior to that, the last sitcom game-changer was CBS Television Distribution’s Everybody Loves Raymond in 2001.

“The most lucrative thing in syndication is a sitcom,” says Ira Bernstein, copresident of Debmar-Mercury, which has sold Tyler Perry’s House of Payne and Meet the Browns into syndication and is currently selling Ice Cube’s Are We There Yet? to TV stations for launch in 2012, which is looking like a thin year for sitcoms.

Looking even further down the road, the next big sitcom launch could again be from Lorre: Warner Bros.’ Mike and Molly has this season’s best chance of making it to syndication. Twentieth’s Raising Hope was this season’s first show to be renewed for season two, also making it a contender for a 2014 syndication debut.

“It’s way too early to tell, especially for a Chuck Lorre show,” says one syndication executive, referring to the fact that Lorre–produced comedies—including Men and Bang—tend to grow into hits slowly. “The only thing to do is to wait and see how well they perform.”

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Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. 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.