Onetime cult favorites “Family Guy” and “The Office” are poised to become the darlings of this year’s National Association of Television Program Executives convention as a dearth of new first-run programming shifts attendees’ focus toward off-net fare. The irony is that among major distributors, little selling for these shows will even take place.
In fact, the two series either are already mostly cleared and poised for a 2007 launch or won’t even be taking sales meetings. But that isn’t stopping distributors for the series from capitalizing on their shows’ impressive followings both with audiences and with stations seeking to hit home runs in key demographics.
Cleared in more than 75 percent of the country, including the 20 outlets owned by the Tribune station group, “Family Guy” proved there is a very profitable life after death. The animated Fox series has undergone an unprecedented resurrection following the series ratings records it set on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block and the 9 million DVD units sold to fans lamenting the show’s cancellation.
This success prompted Fox to bring the series back for a fifth season, making “Family Guy” the only series ever to return to television after being canceled, according to Twentieth executives. A multiplatform success, more than 500 “Family Guy” merchandise items have been licensed in more than 10,000 consumer outlets, including such major retailers as Target, Wal-Mart and Kmart. On the Web, “Family Guy” was 2005’s third-most-searched television program of the year on Yahoo and currently is the No. 1 most downloaded cellphone television property, with 2.3 million ringtones, voice tones, wallpaper, ring-backs and games downloaded to date.
At NATPE, executives for “Family Guy” distributor Twentieth Television will meet with station executives to round out the rest of country, including Atlanta and Detroit, on the way to a 2007 syndication debut for the show.
“As we head into NATPE our goal will be to close the remaining markets left, but our guys will also be focused on working with stations on the pitching and promotion of the show as we count down toward its debut,” said Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of Twentieth Television. “We expect a strong syndicated launch for a show that continues to be the top sitcom among teens and young adults on its network.”
Based on the U.K. series of the same name, NBC Universal’s “The Office” came out of the gate slowly in its first six-episode season. Critics loyal to the British version were quick to attack the series as yet another weak copycat from this side of the pond.
However, season two quickly saw the emergence of series star Steve Carell, who also struck gold over the summer in “The 40 Year-Old Virgin,” and a jelling of the cast that soon created loyal fans of its own. In fact, “The Office” is now ranked No. 1 in the time period for men and adults 18 to 34 despite stiff competition from “Survivor” and “Ugly Betty.” NBC executives boast that the series ranks as one of the top young male skews in the history of the network. The series continues to rank strongly in other platforms, including its famed web-only episodes, which appear on NBC’s Web site.
“I have yet to meet a young man who doesn’t talk about the show,” said Sean O’Boyle, senior VP and general sales manager for NBC Universal Television Distribution. “If you look at television in general, there have been few strong sitcoms that are poised to drive this demo to stations the way `The Office’ is capable of doing.”
The question for NBC Universal, however, is when exactly stations might see the series hit the syndicated airwaves. Multiple sources say the series, once targeting a launch for the 2009 season, may end up capitalizing on the complete lack of off-net competition targeting 2008.
Either way, Mr. O’Boyle said he will be meeting with stations interested in the series, not to sell the show per se but to promote the attributes for when it does come available.
“I plan to tell them, `Listen, we’ve got a great show. It’s hard to find both a great sitcom and a quality sitcom,’ and show them all the positive aspects associated with the series,” he said. “As we evolve the series into syndication, I only expect interest to get richer.”