Everybody loves an off-net winner

Aug 20, 2001  •  Post A Comment

With the upcoming syndication debut of the hit CBS situation comedy “Everybody Loves Raymond” on affiliate stations this fall, distributor King World Productions is also banking on the notion that “everybody loves reruns.”
With a spate of recent off-net debuts underperforming analyst expectations-most notably “The Drew Carey Show,” “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,” “3rd Rock From the Sun” and “Spin City”-hopes are high for the newest round of shows, which include “Just Shoot Me,” “Steve Harvey,” “King of the Hill” and “Raymond.”
“Raymond” is by far the standout of the pack in an off-net sitcom market that seems destined for a drought in the near term, thanks to the combination of this past season’s prime-time failures and the recent trend of reality-based television programs, which are starting to fill out the available spaces the comedies once had.
Sources estimate the five-year first cycle “Raymond” run will gross more than $300 million. The show’s star Ray Romano-a perennial Emmy nominee-will receive a cut of syndication profits. The terms of the deal are for 221 weeks made up of five network seasons, with options of 39 weeks for each additional network season.
A boon to the show’s potential strength in syndication is its current success in first-run. Historically, a show’s success at the time of its off-net debut-and not simply its success in its overall run-is the best indicator of its potential for off-net ratings performance.
Joe DiSalvo, senior vice president of domestic sales for King World, said, “When you look at all the sitcoms that do well in syndication, they all seem to have certain characteristics. They all have certain things in common going into the launch.” He noted that “Everybody Loves Raymond” now lands well within the top five watched shows, according to Nielsen Media Research, week after week. Similar statistics were noted for both “Seinfeld” and “Friends” at the time they made their off-net debuts.
“Raymond’s” recent performance on CBS certainly adds to the optimism. “Just seeing `Raymond’ growing year after year [is very encouraging],” said Mr. DiSalvo. “And here we are today seeing `Raymond’ tying with `Friends’ [for the top spot].”
Not coincidentally, “Raymond” and ratings competitor “Friends” will run side-by-side-as well as in double-run-in most off-net markets, often landing in the coveted 7 p.m.-to8 p.m. and 11 p.m.-to-12 a.m. spots.
However, Mr. DiSalvo believes that there are other inalienable factors that contribute to a show’s success in off-net. “It comes down to the writing and the acting,” he said. Drawing another “Friends” comparison, he pointed to what he feels is a strong ensemble cast for “Raymond.” The show’s recognition among critics only adds to its expectations. “When you see all the Emmy nods this year and in the past, it feels great to be going in,” Mr. DiSalvo said.
Despite “Raymond’s” strong existing audience, Mr. DiSalvo has hopes that the show will also find a new set of followers in its new time periods. For example, viewers who normally watch “Ally McBeal”-which “Raymond” runs against on Monday nights-will now have the opportunity to catch the show without conflict, said Mr. DiSalvo.
Another of this fall’s new syndicated shows is hoping for a following as well. As one of only a few prime-time animated series to make it to syndication, Twentieth Television’s “King of the Hill” will dare to go where juggernaut “The Simpsons” has gone before it. Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of Twentieth, is confident the series has what it takes to deliver.
“Like `The Simpsons,’ you have an ensemble cast, everyday folks with everyday humor, [and it’s] extremely well-written,” he said. We have very good early-fringe and access time periods for [`King of the Hill’] in most of the country, and it’s been embraced by advertisers and is selling well in the upfront.”
Echoing the notion that a series’ first-run success is a good predictor of its value in the off-net market, Mr. Cook said. “Another important note is that when moved around the network schedule, the show always performed. So we think it will be an excellent utility player in syndication.”
Despite the abundant lack of new sitcoms in the near-term, Twentieth’s standout series “Malcolm in the Middle” is also expected to make off-net sales waves a-la “Raymond.”
“We’re very excited about syndicating this hugely successful show,” said Mr. Cook. “The ratings continue to grow on the network, with a sweeping time period win both years, and it is Fox’s No. 2 show behind `The Simpsons.’ There’s nothing else out there like this-it’s the funniest show on TV.”