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Thin Sitcom Pipeline Gets No Laughs at Upfronts

Here's what we know for sure heading into this year’s broadcast upfronts: CBS’ The Big Bang Theory isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s renewed through the 2016-17 TV season.

That’s good news all around, with the show continuing to set ratings records in its seventh season on CBS, as well as remaining syndication’s top offnet sitcom for the third year in a row, beating Twentieth’s rookie runner-up, Modern Family, by a ratings point or two most weeks.

That’s the “good news.” The Big Bang Theory’s continued dominance of both network primetime and syndication also highlights the other side of the industry coin: Since Modern Family’s 2008 debut, no comedy has broken out in any notable way. And while Modern Family may still feel fresh, it’s now vying for its fifth Emmy as outstanding comedy and has nearly completed its first season in syndication.

Gleams of Hope

Along the way, there have been some gleams of hope—Fox’s New Girl opened with a bang, but after last season, the show’s third, it is down 12% among adults 18-49 compared to season two. In season three, the show’s ratings among adults 18-49 were in steep decline, opening in September at a 2.9 18-49 and wrapping its finale at a 1.2 in that key demo. New Girl goes into syndication in fall 2015 and bids are due early this summer.

Still, New Girl remains a popular choice for younger viewers, landing on Hulu’s top-five list most weeks, and frequently earning one of TV’s biggest seven-day viewing bumps, adding as much as 75% to its rating.

“Some 40% of shows recorded on a DVR aren’t ever watched,” says Steve MacDonald, Twentieth executive VP/general sales manager, cable. “That’s a real vote of confidence from the show’s passionate and engaged viewers.”

Two shows that have already been sold into syndication for 2015—Warner Bros.’ 2 Broke Girls and Fox’s Raising Hope—have shown serous erosion this season. Raising Hope declined 50% season to date among adults 18- 49 in its fourth and last season, while 2 Broke Girls, in season three, dropped off 65% in the key demo to a 2.3 season-to-date demo rating compared to the prior year’s 3.8. Meanwhile, Mike & Molly, in its fourth season, improved 12% to a 3.7 in the demo as it prepares to head into syndication this fall.

Other promising starters—ABC’s Trophy Wife and Super Fun Night, CBS’ The Crazy Ones and NBC’s The Michael J. Fox Show— all fizzled out by year’s end.

A Few Survivors

There are a few shows on network schedules that look like good shots to make it into syndication, including Warner Bros.’ Suburgatory, which airs on ABC, and Twentieth’s Bob’s Burgers, which airs on Fox and will pair nicely on stations that air other Fox animated shows, such as Family Guy and The Simpsons. Bob’s Burgers already airs on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, which was what Family Guy did before becoming a huge broadcast hit.

Two comedy bright spots this season— ABC’s The Goldbergs and NBC’s About a Boy—are expected to get picked up for a second season, raising hopes that they will make it all the way into syndication. And one show, Chuck Lorre’s Mom, starring Anna Faris and Allison Janney, may not be the ratings hit that everyone hoped, but neither was another Lorre show, Big Bang, at this stage in that show’s run. Lorre’s third sitcom in primetime, Two and a Half Men, is still going strong in its 11th season, having ably weathered the stormy end of Charlie Sheen’s run.

“If you were to look for something that could have potential given the network it’s on, and its current ratings, then Mom has got the best chance of any of this season’s new shows,” says one syndication executive.