First-run syndication

ClassyCo

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Occasionally I get into certain fads, trends, or eras in television history.

Here lately I've been into those television shows that were canceled by their respective networks and later successfully revived in first-run syndication. It was a popular trend to bring back canceled sitcoms in syndication during the 1980s. Two of the most successful comedies revived are usually said to have been Mama's Family and Charles in Charge.

Of course there were a host of other sitcoms that were brought back for second lives in first-run syndication. Some of them were brought back simply to push the show over the desired threshold of totaled episodes for syndicated stripping.

The picture:
Top row: Mama's Family, Charles in Charge, It's a Living
Bottom row: Punky Brewster, 9 to 5, Silver Spoons

upload_2020-6-26_8-53-31.png
 

tommie

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The most popular comedy in syndication:

 

ClassyCo

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The most popular comedy in syndication:

I was wondering how long it would take before someone brought Baywatch up.
 

tommie

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I was wondering how long it would take before someone brought Baywatch up.
One post!

Also, watching Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman - a daily comedy-soap opera about yellow waxy build-ups.



I did love Peter Bentley's Amazon when it aired:

 

Daniel Avery

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I've always regarded the 'golden age' of first-run syndication (roughly 1986-95) as the period of time when producers finally realized that they could keep a lot more of the profits if they circumvented the networks. Production companies had been forced to grovel to the network heads for decades, begging them to pick up their shows, and watching the networks haul away the majority of the profits from the more successful shows. There had been first-run shows available for long before the mid-1980s--Hee Haw being notable for its success in the country-music genre and its longevity. But the system really blossomed in the mid-1980s because of the boom in talk shows in daytime. Hosts and producers of those shows decided to sell the shows directly to stations rather than relying on a network to distribute them. Local stations had large blocks of their broadcast day that was not filled by network programming (mornings, early evening, and late fringe past midnight), and talk shows were preferable in that period because of the exploitative content and 'star power' of many of the hosts. This was preferable to sitcom reruns or local news. Hosts like Oprah owned a chunk of their show's profits, and as she (and others) became rich and famous a lot of producers saw that cutting the networks out of the equation might allow them to keep more of the profits from a show.

Also in the mid-1980s, there were a lot of independent television stations--that is, a station not affiliated with CBS, NBC, or ABC. They relied even more on reruns of old movies and off-network programming. The Fox Network came along in 1986 but originally only aired original programming on Sunday nights. Independent stations that decided to become a Fox affiliate had to fill up their days and nights with content, so there was yet another demand for various programming. Many of the syndicated shows that aired weekly (as opposed to daily like talk shows) looked and sounded just like network programming and had the same high production values, so the independent/Fox-affiliated stations now had the chance to carry a few more original shows, not just reruns of the other networks. The producers of these shows also pre-sold large chunks of the advertising time that was being aired, allowing the independent channels to go 50/50 with them on ad time to have their local commercials airing alongside national brands, which is preferable to having your commercial time being dominated by cheesy ads for record albums, Life Alert, and Ginsu Knives.

In the early 1990s the first-run market expanded into action/adventure hours, a mix of standard crime dramas and sci-fi/fantasy shows that the networks tended not to have much faith in. This move was likely based on the success of Star Trek: Next Generation, which was syndicated rather than a network show. Shows like Forever Knight, Highlander, and Viper popped up with huge (for that time) budgets, and though I think FK began as a TV-movie on CBS, I don't think any of the others ever even approached a network about airing the show. They knew first-run syndication would give them more artistic freedom as well as "financial freedom" to spend a lot of money per episode. I recall reading that Highlander had a highly unique co-production deal between US, Canadian, and French companies that allowed the show to film half its season in France and half in Canada, giving it a cinematic look that could never have happened if it had been on a US network.

I can't really pinpoint why first-run syndication comedies did not continue to be produced after about 1993. Maybe it was the move toward dramas on the networks, or maybe they did not have as many stations airing them once Fox expanded their programming to seven days per week. Many of the original comedies had run their course, but they were not replaced with others. I know some cable channels had matured enough to produce their own originals (Lifetime Movies, for example), but those channels didn't do sitcoms, either. Court shows took over for many of the talk shows that got cancelled (and are just as profitable, apparently), and of course there are still plenty of sitcom reruns to buy. Reality TV also took some of the time away.
 

ClassyCo

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I've always regarded the 'golden age' of first-run syndication (roughly 1986-95) as the period of time when producers finally realized that they could keep a lot more of the profits if they circumvented the networks. Production companies had been forced to grovel to the network heads for decades, begging them to pick up their shows, and watching the networks haul away the majority of the profits from the more successful shows. There had been first-run shows available for long before the mid-1980s--Hee Haw being notable for its success in the country-music genre and its longevity. But the system really blossomed in the mid-1980s because of the boom in talk shows in daytime. Hosts and producers of those shows decided to sell the shows directly to stations rather than relying on a network to distribute them. Local stations had large blocks of their broadcast day that was not filled by network programming (mornings, early evening, and late fringe past midnight), and talk shows were preferable in that period because of the exploitative content and 'star power' of many of the hosts. This was preferable to sitcom reruns or local news. Hosts like Oprah owned a chunk of their show's profits, and as she (and others) became rich and famous a lot of producers saw that cutting the networks out of the equation might allow them to keep more of the profits from a show.

Also in the mid-1980s, there were a lot of independent television stations--that is, a station not affiliated with CBS, NBC, or ABC. They relied even more on reruns of old movies and off-network programming. The Fox Network came along in 1986 but originally only aired original programming on Sunday nights. Independent stations that decided to become a Fox affiliate had to fill up their days and nights with content, so there was yet another demand for various programming. Many of the syndicated shows that aired weekly (as opposed to daily like talk shows) looked and sounded just like network programming and had the same high production values, so the independent/Fox-affiliated stations now had the chance to carry a few more original shows, not just reruns of the other networks. The producers of these shows also pre-sold large chunks of the advertising time that was being aired, allowing the independent channels to go 50/50 with them on ad time to have their local commercials airing alongside national brands, which is preferable to having your commercial time being dominated by cheesy ads for record albums, Life Alert, and Ginsu Knives.

In the early 1990s the first-run market expanded into action/adventure hours, a mix of standard crime dramas and sci-fi/fantasy shows that the networks tended not to have much faith in. This move was likely based on the success of Star Trek: Next Generation, which was syndicated rather than a network show. Shows like Forever Knight, Highlander, and Viper popped up with huge (for that time) budgets, and though I think FK began as a TV-movie on CBS, I don't think any of the others ever even approached a network about airing the show. They knew first-run syndication would give them more artistic freedom as well as "financial freedom" to spend a lot of money per episode. I recall reading that Highlander had a highly unique co-production deal between US, Canadian, and French companies that allowed the show to film half its season in France and half in Canada, giving it a cinematic look that could never have happened if it had been on a US network.

I can't really pinpoint why first-run syndication comedies did not continue to be produced after about 1993. Maybe it was the move toward dramas on the networks, or maybe they did not have as many stations airing them once Fox expanded their programming to seven days per week. Many of the original comedies had run their course, but they were not replaced with others. I know some cable channels had matured enough to produce their own originals (Lifetime Movies, for example), but those channels didn't do sitcoms, either. Court shows took over for many of the talk shows that got cancelled (and are just as profitable, apparently), and of course there are still plenty of sitcom reruns to buy. Reality TV also took some of the time away.
I always love your posts. Every time I start a new thread, I just can't wait to read your thoughts on the issue.

This is another informative one to add to the list. :)
 

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One of those first-run syndication comedies that made a brief splash was Throb, a series centered around the employees at struggling "Throb Records". It only run a few years but was a ratings hit when it first started. Diana Canova (Soap) was the star of the show, and Jane Leeves (later of Frasier) played her office "frenemy". In one scene Sandy (Canova) was consoling her boss after one of the artists he dropped from the label became a star after signing with a competitor. She pointed out that show business was full of "missed opportunities". After listing a couple of famous artists who had been passed over, she added, "Throb was turned down by CBS...."
 

tommie

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I can't really pinpoint why first-run syndication comedies did not continue to be produced after about 1993.
I think it has to do with the same reason why The CW ended up abandoning sitcoms in the late 00s - since stations like to program in hour blocks it usually means that to effectively sell a comedy you usually need a companion piece. So either you'd have to have an effective plan to sell it as a companion piece to an existing sitcom (either a show that's successful in reruns or another syndicated sitcom) or create two shows and sell them as a package. While stations have half hour news broadcasts I imagine that pairing those together with sitcoms wouldn't be ideal and things like court shows just worked better for that purpose. I imagine scripted hour long shows just ended up being easier to sell.
 

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Another issue working against both the sitcoms and the hour-long dramas was the weekly release of episodes (rather than "strip syndication" of Monday-Friday). Viewers were (and still are) accustomed to seeing the same show every weekday in most dayparts (other than primetime). The local channels would have to buy the first-run syndication comedies or action hours in groups of five--one for Monday, one for Tuesday, etc. From the minute Fox Network hit the airwaves in 1986 they did not program anything at 10pm Eastern, opting to give that hour to their affiliate stations to (supposedly) produce a nightly newscast. To this day, Fox still doesn't offer anything for the 10pm slot. Since most of the smaller stations out in the hinterlands were barely scraping by, they could not afford to have a news division--so that hour became one of the most popular timeslots for the action hours. They were good counter-programming for the big three networks, who were airing a lot of the same kind of shows at 10pm. For the stations (mostly in large cities) that could do a newscast, a sitcom would often be aired in the second half of the hour. But a lot of channels from all affiliations picked up various sitcoms and action hours to fill various holes in their schedules. I recall the weekends were filled with first-run stuff during early-prime and whenever there wasn't sports-related events airing.
 

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At least one game show went into first-run syndie after having a very brief run on its network (and this is the only one I've heard of that has done that; I may be incorrect): Tic Tac Dough w/Wink Martindale (had a roughly two-month, 45-show summer run on CBS Daytime in 1978, and then went into first-run syndie starting Sept. of that year; the syndie run would be known for having a few notable champions [most notably Thom McKee, Navy pilot who took $312,700 in cash and prizes over 45 or 46 shows in 1980]).

Here is the first show of the 45-episode CBS Daytime summer run:

And here's the first show of the syndie run:

And a show from the run of the famous Thom McKee in 1980:
 

Daniel Avery

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I recall watching Tic-Tac-Dough in my youth. Where I lived, it aired in early evening (like 7 or 7:30). Martindale's still alive, God Bless him, though he and fellow game show host Bob Eubanks look like they got the 2-for-1 deal at the plastic surgeon.
 

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I recall watching Tic-Tac-Dough in my youth. Where I lived, it aired in early evening (like 7 or 7:30).
IIRC, when it was on WPVI Channel 6 in Philly (6ABC, ABC O&O of that area), that's the time slot it had.
 
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