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SPT Pitching Off-Network 'Community'

Sony Pictures Television is prepping to take NBC’s Thursday lead-off sitcom, Community, out for sale to stations at the end of the month for a September 2013 off-network premiere.

SPT execs believe Community will find a welcoming sitcom environment when it premieres two years from now—a take that has been backed by both buzz and ratings for the genre in first-run rookies and veterans on network primetime schedules, as well as a ramped-up off-net marketplace for comedies in recent years.

Warner Bros.’ Big Bang Theory and NBCU’s 30 Rock are launching this year, and NBCU’s The Office has built itself into a solid syndication performer. Warner Bros.’ Two and a Half Men is still going strong in syndication, and so far it appears the primetime version of the show isn’t missing its former star, Charlie Sheen. Community will launch alongside Twentieth’s Emmy darling Modern Family in 2013, in sitcom time periods that have been primed to perform.

“It’s important to keep feeding fresh sitcoms to the sitcom audience to make sure you are constantly stoking that audience,” says John Weiser, president of distribution, SPT.

SPT’s pitch will undoubtedly be about more than just its ratings, as the NBC laugher has been able to build buzz despite having modest numbers in a ratings-challenged NBC lineup that hasn’t been able to prop the show up much.

And Community faces heavier than ever competition on Thursdays at 8 p.m. “It’s literally the toughest time period on television,” says a syndication executive.

This season, Thursday at 8 p.m. remains just as challenging. CBS airs TV’s second-highest-rated comedy, The Big Bang Theory, directly opposite it, and Fox has scheduled The X Factor’s results show at that time. ABC is airing Charlie’s Angels in the 8 p.m. slot. Even The CW is in the mix with one of its most popular shows, The Vampire Diaries, running at that time.

And NBC has asked a lot of Community because it has no lead-in to give it an assist, unlike, for example CBS’ Mike and Molly, which gets a big lift coming out of Two and a Half Men’s whopper numbers. Another disadvantage of airing at 8 p.m. is that levels of households using television (HUT) are primetime’s lowest, so 8 p.m. shows rarely earn marks as high as those of 9 p.m. shows.

Starring The Soup’s Joel McHale, Community premiered its third season on Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. with a 1.7 rating/5 share among adults 18-49, the broadcast networks’ key advertising demographic. The rating was down significantly from last year’s 2.2/7 opener. Last season, Community averaged a 2.0 live-plus-sevenday rating among adults 18-49.

“I view Community as a show that has a very loyal audience,” says one NBC executive. “If you are going up against that kind of competition, you are going to lose those people if they are only casual viewers. Community has people who are motivated to keep watching it, even when monster shows like Idol and Big Bang are thrown at it.”

“To be fair to Community, it has been able to establish itself in a very difficult time period on NBC, which faces challenges across every night except on Sundays with NFL football,” says Bill Carroll, vice president, programming, Katz Media Group. “You have to put it in the context of all sitcoms, but you also have to put it in the context of sitcoms on NBC. You also have to look at where its demographic strength is and use that as another gauge of where it may fit best into a line-up.”

It’s in the demographics that Community shines. The show indexes eleventh among adults 18-49 who annually earn an income of $100,000 or more. (An index measures what percentage of a show’s overall audience is higher than average among a certain group of demographics.) The rest of NBC’s Thursday night sitcom line-up ranks first and second by that measure, with 30 Rock topping that list and The Office and Parks and Rec tying for second.

Finally, it can work to a show’s advantage to be little-seen when it heads to syndication, which was somewhat the case with CTD’s EverybodyLoves Raymond, which grew into a giant hit in both broadcast and in syndication. Occasionally, audiences find shows in syndication that they had missed in primetime and become fans.

Besides McHale, Community stars Allison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Chevy Chase, Donald Grover, Gillian Jacobs and Danny Pudi as a diverse group of students attending Greendale Community College. Dan Harmon is the creator and executive producer. SPT produces.

“We think Community is one of the funniest shows on television. There’s no grey area with it,” Weiser says. “If you watch it, you love it.”

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