No Off-Net Sitcoms in Pipeline

This week's upfronts mark a worrisome milestone for the network comedy business. None of the sitcoms introduced in 2004-05, which would have reached enough episodes to enter off-net syndication after next season, are left on the air.

In contrast, three—and possibly four—dramas that began then are expected to return.

ABC has already picked up Boston Legal, which needs a full-season order to make it to syndication. The network has also renewed Lost through its conclusion in 2010, but Disney could face problems syndicating it since the highly serialized format does not repeat well.

Meanwhile, CBS would have financial incentive to renew its in-house–produced Numb3rs, even with year-to-year ratings declines ranging from the mid single to low double digits in key demos against NBC's Law & Order (see separate story, p. 30).

Renewal chances for The CW's Veronica Mars had been iffy, but they may be gaining steam heading into the upfronts, especially with the departure of Gilmore Girls leaving a significant hole on the schedule (which could be filled with a new drama, depending on the strength of development). Through May 6, Mars was up 19% this season among younger women (from a 1.6 rating to 1.9) following its shift from the defunct UPN to The CW.

While the off-net–drama pipeline is replenished, stations will have to wait beyond next season for more comedies. For the first time ever, there will be no sitcoms introduced into syndication in fall 2008.

NBC has already renewed younger series The Office, My Name Is Earl and freshman 30 Rock, the last of which needs to see improved ratings next season to make it to syndication.

After lengthy negotiations, NBC reportedly picked up Scrubs for 18 episodes next season. That provides Disney with another year of episodes for syndication.

According to Jim and George Lopez are in deep trouble, but ABC may need its most established sitcoms around to launch new ones.

Rookies Notes From the Underbelly and In Case of Emergency performed respectably in their short runs, earning some consideration for the fall. Underbelly may have the edge if ABC decides to bring one back.

CBS' midseason entry Rules of Engagement did well and is probably a lock for renewal, but New Adventures of Old Christine and The Class are on the bubble. One—and perhaps both—could get cut if the network's new comedy crop looks strong. Ironically, CBS' departing King of Queens has performed as well as any of CBS' other comedies this season.

Sony's 'Til Death will almost certainly return for a second season. Fox is understood to have already given the go-ahead on writer pickups. The sitcom had struggled on Thursdays, but Fox showed its commitment by putting it behind American Idol this spring.

Fox's low-rated The War at Home and The Winner are most vulnerable.

Animated entries American Dad and King of the Hill have a chance at renewal, although neither has done well enough this season to be considered a lock.