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‘Family’ Planning

Now that Warner Bros. has sold the CBS hit The Big Bang Theory to Fox and Turner, industry eyes are turning, with much anticipation, to the next big sitcom coming down the pike: Twentieth Television’s Modern Family, which is scheduled to premiere in syndication in fall 2013.

All through the recent upfront week, rumors were flying that Twentieth would take the show to market imminently. But several industry sources say potential buyers advised the syndicator to hold off.

There are two strong arguments for taking out Modern Family now. First, buyers have already set aside money, so clients that missed out on Big Bang—Tribune, FX—would have money ready to acquire Family. And Family has tons of buzz around it as it closes out a strong rookie season on ABC. “When a show’s hot, you take it out,” one observer says.

And Modern Family is definitely hot. It turns out, however, that the market is not. At least not yet, anyway.

Both Fox and Turner paid big bucks for Big Bang, with Turner reportedly setting a syndication record for a cable purchase of an off-net sitcom at $1.5 million an episode, and Fox paying license fees in the neighborhood of what Tribune paid for Warner Bros.’ top-rated Two and a Half Men in 2004. That means neither of those important buyers is prepared to empty its pockets right now for another big show.

Without Turner and Fox in the mix, the market for Family becomes much less competitive, driving down prices. What’s more likely, according to sources, is that Twentieth will bring the show to market next winter, although Twentieth is staying mum about its plans.

What will help the show is if it continues to grow in its second season, as Big Bang did. Family’s first season was stronger than Big Bang’s, which premiered on CBS in 2007, right before the writers’ strike took hold.

This season, Family racked up 11 million viewers in its Wednesday 9 p.m. time slot and a 4.6 rating/12 share liveplus- seven-day average among adults 18-49, according to Nielsen. In its first season, Big Bang averaged 8.4 million viewers and a 3.3 among adults 18-49. This season, Big Bang was TV’s top-rated sitcom among adults 18-49, averaging a 6.1/14 in the key sales demo and 15.9 million viewers in its Monday 9:30 p.m. time slot.

Where Family struggles a bit is in repeats, an important gauge of syndication success. There, the show’s performance drops to a 2.0/5 among adults 18-49, and 5.4 million viewers. Big Bang holds up fairly well in repeats, averaging a 3.8/9 among adults 18-49 and 11.1 million viewers this season.

Perhaps the most important piece of syndication sales, however, is turning buyers into huge fans of the show. “When you are selling a sitcom, you don’t want anyone to be rational,” says one syndication chief. “Rationality is the difference between a couple of hundred million dollars.”

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