Veteran Sitcoms Struggle In November Sweeps

TV stations and cable networks still rely on sitcom reruns to bring in viewers, and if the price is right, remain reliable revenue-drivers.

It’s a nice, comfortable system— until, as happened this year, all of the veteran sitcoms declined significantly year-to-year in the November sweeps. While ratings did improve in early December, the comedies all remained down by double-digits.

Conversely, Twentieth’s Modern Family has begun its long-anticipated climb, surpassing the 5.0 household rating mark in the week ended Dec. 8 (the last week national ratings were available) and hitting a season- high 5.1 live-plus-same-day HH rating, according to Nielsen Media Research. Modern Family is syndication’s No. 2-rated off-net sitcom.

While Modern Family’s customers— including Fox O&O stations and USA Network—are pleased with the ratings performance, the show has some road to tread if it’s going to become a mega-performer like Warner Bros.’ top-rated The Big Bang Theory.

By this time in 2011, Big Bang’s rookie year, that show already had surpassed a 7.0 and become syndication’s highest-rated sitcom by far. Big Bang’s early climb was quicker, with the show passing a 5.0 in its second week.

Two years later, the picture is a bit different for Big Bang, which has been displaced in Fox markets by Modern Family in major access time periods. In the November sweeps, Big Bang lost 15% year-to-year to a 6.3, although it made some of that loss back up in the week ended Dec. 8, showing a 12% YTY decline.

Other sitcoms have lost more ground. Out of the top tier, CBS Television Distribution’s Everybody Loves Raymond has fallen the most, dropping 63% in November to a 0.7 household rating in its 13th season in syndication. Raymond’s ratings decline is largely due to its moving off of both TBS and TV Land as a strip, although it still plays on TV Land on weekends.

By comparison, other long-running sitcoms have held up better. Sony Pictures Television’s Seinfeld, prepping to enter its fifth cycle in syndication, has dropped 23% to a 1.7 in its 19th season, while Warner Bros.’ Friends faded 10% to a 1.8 in its 16th season.

Arsenio: Master of Seinfeld’s Domain?

At least part of Seinfeld’s decline can be attributed to being pushed later on Tribune’s WPIX New York, where CBS Television Distribution’s Arsenio Hall replaced it at 11 p.m. Last year, Seinfeld averaged a 1.1 HH rating/ 2 share at 11; this year, it’s turning in a 0.5/1 at midnight, while Arsenio averaged a 0.6/1 at 11 p.m. on WPIX in November.

Warner Bros.’ Two and a Half Men, formerly a syndication powerhouse, lost 30% yearto- year to a 3.7. While Men remains in third place overall, it’s a huge drop from the mid-5.0 household rating the show earned in 2010 before Big Bang debuted. Two and a Half Men, in its 11th season on CBS in primetime, is renewed throughout the country through 2021.

Twentieth’s Family Guy, which is heading into its third cycle in syndication, decreased 21% to a 3.0 but remained the third-highestrated veteran sitcom and fourth overall.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for more than 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for The Global Entertainment Marketing Academy of Arts & Sciences (G.E.M.A.). 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.