'Mike & Molly' Breaks Out As Fall’s Surprise Star

When Warner Bros. took Mike & Molly into the syndication market in spring 2012, it didn’t have quite the same reception as its sibling, The Big Bang Theory, did in 2012. Neither Tribune nor Fox— the two groups with stations in major markets who at the time were buying sitcoms—stepped up to acquire the show.

Luckily, CBS had acquired independent WLNY New York in December 2011, and needed programming. CBS ended up acquiring Warner Bros.’ Mike & Molly and Two Broke Girls, which was in its rookie season and will debut in syndication next fall.

That got Mike & Molly sold but into time periods that aren’t nearly as strong as those of Big Bang or Twentieth’s Modern Family, which debuted in syndication last fall.

Showing Strength in Weak Time Slots

Now that Mike & Molly has premiered, it’s showing some strength despite its clearances on weaker stations, such as WLNY and KCAL Los Angeles. The show, which stars Melissa McCarthy and Billy Gardell and is executive produced by Chuck Lorre, ties Twentieth’s The Cleveland Show as the third-highest-rated sitcom debut since 2010 when Big Bang, another Lorre show, premiered in syndication.

Season-to-date through October 19, Mike & Molly is averaging a 1.9 live-plus-sameday household average and is up 20% among women 25-54 compared to last October’s time period in the weighted metered markets.

Moreover, the show has grown 12% since its September debut, and daylight savings time has only just begun. Off-net sitcoms tend to show their strength in February, when the days are dark and cold.

“We’re thrilled with how it’s doing, and so are our clients,” says Ken Werner, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution.

Werner also says that the show has grown creatively since its 2010 debut on CBS, emphasizing McCarthy’s increasing commercial appeal, and broadening the cast and story lines.

Mike & Molly isn’t considered an A-level sitcom, and wasn’t priced as such, which could give it an edge when it comes to longevity, especially if its ratings continue to grow.

Comparatively, Big Bang, which was expensive and hugely anticipated, averaged a 4.6 when it debuted in September 2011, climbing to a 7.6, and the top of the syndie charts, by February 2012. Twentieth’s Modern Family, which premiered last year, debuted at a 4.1. So far this year, it’s off 7% in households at a 3.8.

Mike & Molly’s downside so far seems to be that it attracts older viewers, with a median age of 51.3. That ties it with Warner Bros.’ Two and a Half Men, the first of the Lorre shows to hit it big in syndication. That’s second only to CBS Television Distribution’s Hot in Cleveland at a 51.8, which also debuted this fall and is averaging a 0.8 in households season to date.

Like the network on which they air, CBS, all of Lorre’s shows skew old—with Big Bang’s median age at a 50.4—but they also mint money. Big Bang and Two and a Half Men are franchises worth billions of dollars.

Grabbing Younger Viewers

“When sitcoms go into syndication, they tend to get younger,” says Paul Franklin, Twentieth Television executive VP, general manager, broadcast sales, who’s starting to take Last Man Standing, starring Tim Allen, to the syndication marketplace.

Syndication’s youngest-skewing sitcoms are animated, with Twentieth’s Family Guy averaging a 33.4, King of the Hill averaging a 26.4 and The Cleveland Show averaging a 25.8. Modern Family, syndication’s second-highest-rated sitcom, averages a 43.5.

Six sitcoms premiered this year in syndication. Besides Mike & Molly, Twentieth debuted American Dad and Raising Hope, Disney-ABC premiered Cougar Town, Debmar -Mercury launched Anger Management off of FX and CTD opened Hot in Cleveland. Mike & Molly is by far the highest-rated of these efforts.

Season to date, American Dad is averaging a 1.1 in households and a 0.7 among adults 18-34, where animated shows tend to shine. Anger Management, starring Charlie Sheen, is averaging a 0.9 in households and a 0.5 among adults 25-54, the demographic on which access sitcoms are typically sold. Hot in Cleveland is averaging a 0.8 in households and a 0.4 among adults 25-54 and Raising Hope, which was canceled on Fox after last season, is averaging a 0.7 in households and a 0.4 among adults 25-54.

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.