While stations and cable networks would normally be excited about the plethora of new offnetwork comedies debuting in syndication this fall, the female-skew for many of them could actually hurt their value.
The big number of new comedies paraded on upfront stages earlier this month should mean more shows for syndicators to sell. If any of this year’s entries hit big—such as CBS’ best-testing pilot in years, 2 Broke Girls—it can end up being a major revenue driver for both the producing studio and for TV stations that acquire it. In the past year, two sitcoms—Twentieth Television’s Modern Family and Warner Bros.’ Big Bang Theory— have sold at sky-high prices.
One hinge, however, could be that many of this year’s most-buzzed-about shows are led by women. Historically, female-led comedies have spelled trouble in syndication.
“The sitcoms that were picked up are almost entirely female-based, and those don’t syndicate well,” says one syndicator. “Murphy Brown, Designing Women, Golden Girls—they were all disasters in syndication.”
“Men form habits and we’re stubborn and lazy,” says another (obviously male) syndication exec. “Guys repeat their patterns. When you look at the greatest sitcoms in history— Seinfeld, Cheers, Frasier—those are all maledriven sitcoms. Men will watch and watch. We don’t change our viewing patterns.”
One exception to that rule is I Love Lucy, which 54 years after ending its network run still airs on some TV stations and digital networks. Some argue that Roseanne performed adequately in syndication, although it was never the major hit that it was in network prime.
Besides CBS’ 2 Broke Girls, starring Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, several other new femaleled network comedies are generating buzz. Two other broke girls team up as roommates and con artists in ABC’s Apartment 23. 2 Broke Girls’ cocreator and coproducer, the very busy Whitney Cummings, also created, wrote and will produce and star in NBC’s Whitney. Christina Applegate will star in NBC’s Up All Night. Geek boys everywhere are already looking forward to Fox’s New Girl, starring Zoey Deschanel. Jaime Pressly returns to primetime in Fox’s I Hate My Teenage Daughter.
Still, this development season was sitcomheavy, so the shows come in all shapes and sizes. Last Man Standing, a family-focused comedy starring Tim Allen and Nancy Travis, will air on Tuesdays at 8 p.m., where ABC is looking to establish another comedy beachhead in addition to Wednesday. Last Man will be followed by another male-focused sitcom, Man Up, written, created by and starring Christopher Moynihan. ABC’s Suburgatory stars Jeremy Sisto as a single father. And CBS gave its plum post-Big Bang slot on Thursday nights to How to Be a Gentleman, written by and starring David Hornsby.
“Sitcoms have always been the fuel that made the No. 1 network work, with the exception of American Idol and Fox,” says one syndicator. “Traditionally speaking, over a long period of time, you need comedies. They are efficient, and they repeat well. Comedies have lots of flexibility and can play in different time periods. They are just hard to execute.”
One sitcom whose syndication life was guaranteed during upfront week is Sony’s Rules of Engagement, which the syndicator is out shopping now. CBS placed a full-season order for the show, after ordering four extra episodes this season when Two and a Half Men was forced to shut down production early. Rules of Engagement—starring Oliver Hudson, Patrick Warburton and David Spade—appeals to men and repeats well, according to Sony.
“Every time Rules of Engagement comes into a time period, there’s double-digit growth,” says John Weiser, president of domestic distribution for Sony Pictures Television. “This full-season order brings us right up to 100 episodes.”
HBO also gave Sony a gift by pulling Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage out of syndication, leaving many TV stations with time to fill in late fringe.
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Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.