Fox’s ‘Family Guy’ on Tap for 2007

Jun 5, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The Griffins of Quahog, R.I., are coming to syndication.

Twentieth Television plans to offer the Fox animated series “Family Guy” on a cash-plus-barter basis starting fall 2007, making it one of the few comedies that are likely to enter the syndication market over the next two years.

Aside from Warner Bros.’ “Two and a Half Men,” which will go into syndication at about the same time, there are no sitcoms entering syndication that are major ratings performers. Currently, no comedies at all are slated for syndication launches in 2008.

“We saw there is going to be a scarcity of good product,” Twentieth TV President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Cook said from his Century City, Calif.-area office last week.

The reception “Family Guy” receives in syndication will determine whether Twentieth builds on the success of “The Simpsons,” which has run off-network for 12 years. “Family Guy” will bolster a syndication slate that currently relies on shows including another animated series, “King of the Hill,” and live-action comedies such as “Malcolm in the Middle” and “The Bernie Mac Show.”

Twentieth has paved the way for “Family Guy’s” entry into syndication with advertisements in trade papers, e-mail and swag touting the series. Last week Twentieth gave TelevisionWeek a preview of the plan to market the show later this summer.

The promotion will be based on the series’ history of success on DVD and cable, its similarity to “The Simpsons,” young men’s affinity for the show and its ascension to pop-culture phenomenon, said Mr. Cook and Paul Franklin, executive VP and general sales manager of broadcast for Twentieth.

The company may have a built-in market for “Family Guy” in its own station group and with the Tribune stations, since both groups have shorter prime-time network schedules and have greater need for off-network sitcoms in their top markets.

“Family Guy’s” move into syndication represents a second afterlife for the show, which the Fox broadcast network started in 1999 and canceled three years later.

In April 2003, repeats started running on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block, earning big ratings. That same month, the first- and second-season DVDs were released, selling 400,000 units in 30 days.

The TBS cable network began double-running reruns of “Family Guy” in prime time in 2004, stoking more audience enthusiasm. After a three-year hiatus, Fox revived “Family Guy” in 2005 with new original episodes playing on Sundays opposite ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” at 9 p.m. (ET).

“We actually turned the time period around, and in women too,” Mr. Franklin said, noting that “Family Guy” increased Fox’s ratings for the night among men and women in both the 18 to 34 and 18 to 49 age groups.

The series’ long journey, propelled by fans’ devotion, should give it a strong backwind in syndication, Mr. Franklin said. “Family Guy” fans have already pushed it past “The Simpsons” in DVD sales.

The series is already a half-a-billion-dollar merchandising franchise that boasts Wal-Mart’s No. 1-selling T-shirt.

Some station executives may question whether the popularity of the series has crested or whether it has been overexposed. Mr. Cook argues that the scheduling disruptions “Family Guy” has suffered have kept it from reaching its full potential.

The show’s bawdy, foul-mouthed humor may also be a concern for some stations and may set “Family Guy” up for runs after prime time. So far, “Family Guy” hasn’t suffered that kind of stigma and attracts A-list advertisers in broadcast and cable in prime time, Mr. Cook said.