'Scrubs' 2011?

Only a year after Scrubs' off-network syndication debut, Disney-ABC Domestic Television is back in the marketplace seeking to renew the fresh-out-of-med-school comedy on TV stations through 2011.

With the show cleared mostly on Fox affiliates in top markets, stations are negotiating to extend for two more seasons their three-year, all-barter deals for double runs. The sitcom, which scores low in overall household ratings, ranks high with advertiser-friendly young adults.

To secure as much revenue as fast as possible from Scrubs, the studio (formerly Buena Vista TV) has also licensed it concurrently to Comedy Central and SuperStation WGN with longer-term all-cash deals, while selling 3 million DVD units worldwide. (Neither Disney-ABC nor NBC Universal, which airs the show on NBC, has disclosed results of their joint sale of episodes on iTunes at $1.99 each.)

And with no other Disney sitcoms nearing the syndication pipeline—and Scrubs earning a relatively low 2.1 national rating—the studio has looked for ways to make it more attractive to stations hard up for new comedies.

“There has not been a huge A-list sitcom running on a network since Everybody Loves Raymond,” says Janice Marinelli, president of syndication for Disney-ABC. “Stations are in dire need of comedies.”

In selling Scrubs last year, the distributor struck short-term, all-barter deals usually reserved for B- and C-rated product. It also targeted the 10 p.m.-midnight time periods sought out by younger viewers to get higher costs per thousand viewers (CPMs) than are available in the afternoons. Marinelli figured that demanding low-cash deals from stations would be fruitless for such a comedy in a ho-hum off-net sales market.

Based on Scrubs' performance on NBC and with Nielsen starting to measure college viewing in January, Disney bet that the show would play well with younger adults, particularly men 18-34, who watch late-night TV.

“We were playing for the upside,” says Marinelli. “In success, we could renew it for a couple more years, and by offering it on an all-barter basis, stations would be more inclined to allow us to air it concurrently on basic cable. And [we would] get cash in earlier than we would have otherwise.”

While Disney believes it met its target, poker-faced station executives negotiating renewals will say only that Scrubs has performed “OK” for them.

The comedy has averaged a 1.6 among women 18-34 and a 1.5 with men in the demo—the latter benefiting from a 55% increase (from a 1.1 to 1.7) among college-age males since February. Marinelli calls that a “huge conversion rate” on a “very sellable demo.”

Says Lloyd Komesar, Disney-ABC's executive VP, strategic research, “Scrubs is a show that significantly benefited from Nielsen's inclusion of college-student viewing into the national sample.”

Marinelli hopes Scrubs can avoid the viewer drop-off typical for syndicated comedies the way Twentieth TV's top-rated off-net performer The Simpsons did. But, while Scrubs will end its seven-year network run after next season, the long-running Simpsons has fresh episodes coming into syndication year after year.

Although Scrubs or a popular comedy like Debmar-Mercury's South Park may never produce Simpsons-level ratings, Komesar thinks they still have a place in today's rapidly evolving, unpredictable TV market: “We need to have sitcoms with desirable demos come along that can keep healthy ad dollars flowing into syndication.”