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Off-Network Sitcoms Make Return to Market

After a few slow years, off-network sitcoms have returned, with several shows in the marketplace and two—Warner Bros.’ Mom and Sony Pictures Television’s The Goldbergs—already fully sold for fall 2017 debuts in broadcast syndication.

Meanwhile, Disney-ABC is just taking Emmy-nominated Black-ish to the marketplace, while CBS Television Distribution is offering stations The Game. The latter series, created by Mara Brock Ali about a group of women whose husbands and boyfriends are all professional football players, started its run on The CW’s first season in 2006 and was canceled by the network in 2009, was picked up by BET in 2011 and finally finished its run last year. Nearly 150 episodes are available for syndication.

The Game would premiere in 2017, while Black-ish, which just debuted its third season, would debut in fall 2018. Black-ish stars Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross as upper middle-class African-American parents of four children.

“Right now, with the buzz Black-ish got from its Emmy nominations, that’s the point at which the show is most top of mind,” says Bill Carroll, senior VP, director of content strategy, Katz Television Group.

Black-ish, like The Goldbergs, airs in ABC’s popular Wednesday night sitcom block, sandwiching huge hit Modern Family. The Goldbergs had aired at 8:30 p.m. ET leading into Modern Family, for its first three seasons, until this one, when ABC moved it into the night’s lead-off position at 8 p.m. ET, into new sitcom Speechless, starring Minnie Driver.

Former time slot resident The Middle is moving to Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET/PT and premiering season 8 on Oct. 11. Meanwhile, Blackish leads out of Modern Family at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT.

The Goldbergs is the No. 1 lead-in for Modern Family ever,” says John Weiser, president, distribution, Sony Pictures Television. “It’s also the No. 1 comedy in family coviewing and every single season it climbs in social engagement.”

Weiser also says that The Goldbergs repeats well, which tends to indicate whether a show will do well in syndication; it also appeals to both men and women.

“One of the big attractions of The Goldbergs are the episodes honoring some of the greatest cultural touchstones of the ’80s,” Weiser says. “The Goonies, Star Wars, Back to the Future, Princess Bride…Adam writes personal letters to get permission to create these great episodes that become the ultimate homage to the original works. That this show hits so many key success metrics on top of the fact that viewers just love it makes it a great time to bring The Goldbergs to syndication.”

In its 2016 primetime debut, The Goldbergs grew its audience 8% to 6.9 million viewers, and 5% among adults 18-49 to a 2.0 rating, 8 share in the final live-plus-same-day ratings, according to Nielsen Media Research.

SPT has cleared The Goldbergs in more than 95% of the country, on station groups including Tribune owned stations in the country’s top-three markets as well as Hearst, Sinclair, Nexstar, Raycom and other groups.

The Goldbergs has been available for viewers on Hulu for one year, but Weiser says the reality of shows airing on other platforms is becoming less of an objection for buyers, and in many cases, that extra exposure helps build ratings for programs across all platforms. Moreover, making shows available on subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) platforms helps introduce them to young audiences (many of whom are cord-cutters) that otherwise might not find them on traditional TV.

Black-ish and The Game are just headed out for sale, so there are no clearance numbers to report yet. Potentially coming up next for sale are Twentieth’s Last Man on Earth, Disney-ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat and CBS’ The Odd Couple. This season, the only off-network sitcom to debut was Twentieth’s Last Man Standing, starring Tim Allen and airing Friday nights on ABC.