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Strip Success

In summer, the networks repeat shows, and ratings drop. Syndie ratings say put. This year, the networks added new shows, while, thanks to Ken Jennings' whiz kid showing on Jeopardy!, syndie outperformed expectations.

"The focus of networks has been on original programs this summer," says Mitch Burg, president of the Syndicated Television Network Association. "They didn't deliver. Syndicated programs delivered strong, consistent ratings."

Led by Jennings, syndication shone in the usually unnoticed July sweeps. King World's Jeopardy! topped the list as the No. 2 rated show in all of television, according to Nielsen.

Only repeats of CBS's CSI beat Jeopardy!, scoring a 9.7 household rating versus the game show's 9.0. And other shows in the Viacom/CBS/King World family made up the rest of the top five: CSI: Miami, Without a Trace and Wheel of Fortune at 8.6, 8.5 and 8.3, respectively. In fact, Viacom and CBS dominated the top 20 by that measure. NBC's Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU and Warner Bros.' Friends (in syndication) at Nos. 6, 10 and 18, respectively, were the only non–Viacom-related shows on that list.

In all, syndication had seven of the top-rated TV shows in households, including King World's Everybody Loves Raymond, Sony's Seinfeld, Paramount's Judge Judy and King World's The Oprah Winfrey Show. In some cases, syndie sitcoms outperformed newer network counterparts. In July, Raymond's syndicated 6.9 beat the show's 6.8 on CBS. Carsey-Werner-Mandabach's That '70s Show scored a 3.9 on TV stations, while bringing in a 3.8 on Fox.

Although these stats are impressive, ad buyers look first at a show's demographic performance. Syndie stalwarts such as Wheel and Jeopardy! routinely draw huge audiences, but their ad rates reflect their older audiences: Jeopardy! gets $76,000 per ad, while Wheel
earns $80,000, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. It's the ad rates that explain why syndication feels it gets no respect.

For instance, the network run of Everybody Loves Raymond averages $324,000 for a 30-second spot, but
the syndicated version pulls in only about $100,000 per spot. In TV, there's no time like prime time.