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On the LookoutFor the Next 'Big Bang'

In primetime, 2011 was the year of the comedy, with several shows—CBS’ 2 Broke Girls, Fox’s New Girl, NBCU’s Up All Night and ABC’s Last Man Standing, Suburgatory and Happy Endings—looking primed to enjoy long runs in primetime and be ready for syndication come 2015.

“We have a good year with great potential,” says Bill Carroll, VP, director of programming for Katz Television Group. For syndicators, the big question is what will be the next Big Bang Theory, which has overtaken Warner Bros.’ Two and A Half Men, its sitcom sibling, as syndication’s top off-network comedy.

For the first time in years, there are a lot of contenders. The top six scripted shows on television among primetime’s key demographic of adults 18-49 are comedies, and seven of the top 10 are sitcoms.

Season to date, ABC’s Modern Family and CBS’ Two and a Half Men are virtually tied for first at a 5.7 rating in the demo, according to Nielsen Media Research. CBS’ Big Bang Theory, which just launched this season to big ratings in syndication, is in third at a 4.9, followed by 2 Broke Girls at a 4.5, CBS’ How I Met Your Mother at a 4.2 and CBS’ Mike & Molly at a 4.0. Fox’s New Girl is in eighth at a 3.8, just behind CBS’ NCIS at a 4.0.

Among the other rookies, Happy Endings ranks 18th at a 3.1, with Suburgatory right behind at a 3.0. Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing ranks 26th at 2.8, although among total viewers it’s 21st, averaging a bit more than 10 million viewers.

Modern Family, distributed by Twentieth Television, premieres on broadcast and USA Network in fall 2013. Since it sold at BigBang-level prices, expectations for the Emmy darling are high. Both shows sold in spring and summer of 2010 at approximately $2.5 million per episode in license fees for their combined broadcast and cable runs.

After that, all eyes are on Mike & Molly, the third sitcom to be produced by Warner Bros. and Chuck Lorre, the team behind Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.

Warner Bros. has not yet said when it will take Mike & Molly out for sale, but if the way it handled The Big Bang Theory is any precedent, the studio will take its time and try to strike when its ratings are hottest. Both of Lorre’s other two hit sitcoms were slow-burners, taking a couple of years to really hit their stride, and Mike & Molly is likely to be no different.

Mike & Molly
has quite a bit going for it. The show has moved up eight places—from 14th to sixth—in the adults 18-49 rankings between its first and second seasons. It has a solid slot on CBS’ unstoppable Monday night lineup, which boasts four of the top six scripted shows in primetime among adults 18-49. And its star, Melissa Mc- Carthy, is on a hot streak, winning the best-actress Emmy for her starring role as the show’s Molly Flynn, and her breakout turn in the box-office smash movie Bridesmaids.

“I think Mike & Molly will do quite well in syndication,” says Chuck Larsen, president of television distribution consulting firm October Moon Television. “It will be riding on the coattails of Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. If you are a TV station that owns one or both of those shows, you’ll want Mike & Molly.”

Headed into this month’s NATPE convention in Miami Beach, Warner Bros. is focusing its efforts on The Middle, which stars Patricia Heaton and performs solidly as ABC’s Wednesdaynight opener at a 2.9 among adults 18-49, ranking 22nd in the demo and 25th among total viewers with nearly 9.3 million viewers in its third season.

The Middle continues to grow every year,” says Ken Werner, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. “It’s a good family sitcom that’s compatible with Modern Family.”

The Middle is targeted to premiere in syndication in 2013, in what could be a crowded year for offnet sitcoms. Modern Family is sold, and five other shows are expected to launch that year: CTD’s Hot in Cleveland, Twentieth’s The Cleveland Show, NBCU’s Parks & Recreation and Sony’s Community. CTD, NBCU and Sony are all in the market with their shows.

Mike & Molly
might have some advantage in debuting in syndication a year later since 2014’s offerings look to be few, with only Mike & Molly and Twentieth’s Raising Hope slated to open.

Then, in 2015, the slate gets crowded again, assuming this season’s hot comedies stay hot.

“There are 24 sitcoms on the air right now,” says Larsen, “so fi ve new sitcoms coming out is not a big number. Stations always need them to be refreshed.”

In fact 2012 also will be a slow year for off-network sitcoms, with only Sony’s Rules of Engagement and Debmar- Mercury’s off-TBS Are We There Yet? scheduled to premiere. “[2012] is a low point for off-net sitcoms, historically speaking,” Larsen says.

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