After Twentieth Century Fox Television’s Modern Family beat a syndication sales record previously held by Warner Bros.’ The Big Bang Theory—with both shows earning more than $2 million an episode for their runs on TV stations and on cable—the two shows are now eternally fated to be compared to one another.
Both series are popular sitcoms on broadcast networks that sold in syndication for lots of money, but they are structured differently.
While Big Bang is a traditional sitcom, Modern Family is a single-camera comedy. And if it does become a syndication ratings juggernaut like Big Bang, it will be the first single-camera comedy to achieve such a feat.
With Modern Family finally debuting in syndication, whether the show will rise to Big Bang levels remains to be seen. Sitcoms tend to start slow and peak during the February sweeps. Modern Family opened at a 1.5 rating/3 share in the metered markets, according to Nielsen, just a bit off of The Big Bang Theory’s 1.7 opening number in 2011.
On USA Network, where Modern Family premiered on Tuesday, Sept. 23, the show climbed 11% among adults 18-49 after one week and 23% among adults 25-54, with an average of 1.15 million total viewers tuning in for the show’s six airings on Oct. 1.
“Modern Family’s [initial] numbers are good,” says Bill Carroll, VP, programming, Katz Television Group. “It’s roughly where Big Bang was when it started.”
Meanwhile, Modern Family’s arrival has affected Big Bang in one significant way: The Fox-owned stations moved Modern Family to its duopoly (read: lower-rated) stations in 10 markets.
In New York, Modern Family now airs on WNYW at 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., while Big Bang airs at 11 p.m. on WNYW and at 7:30 p.m.—against Modern Family—on WWOR. In Los Angeles, Modern Family now airs at 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on KTTV, while Big Bang moved to My-Net station KCOP at 6 and 6:30 p.m.—lower-rated time slots in lesser-viewed times.
As a result of those moves, Big Bang is down this season more than a full ratings point—to a 6.1 from a 7.4 at its peak last spring.
Less ‘Bang’ for the Buck?
That ratings drop could affect Big Bang’s performance in two ways: First, its advertising revenue could decline, and second, lesser ratings could mean the show will bring in lower license fees when Warner Bros. goes out to renew it for a second cycle.
By comparison, Modern Family opened its fifth season on ABC at 9 p.m. on Sept. 25, earning a 4.2/12, down 25% from last year’s 5.5 season opener, with 11.7 million viewers tuning in.
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