Flush with the success of off-net launches of “Two and a Half Men” and “Family Guy” into stripped syndication this year, analysts around the industry are proclaiming the sitcom is back. The problem is that there really aren’t any more to buy for 2008.
At play for next fall will be second cycles of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The King of Queens” and “That ’70s Show.” New product, meanwhile, will see a down cycle before sitcoms come back to play for the 2009 season, due to the proliferation of dramas and reality on the network schedules. Not one new off-net comedy will hit the airwaves next season. However, distributors of network series will be busy at NATPE prepping for the next round of shows, including “The Office” and “My Name Is Earl.”
“Sitcoms have always been the bread-and-butter for television stations and one of their best purchases,” said Bob Cook, president-chief operating officer of Twentieth Television. “In fact, sitcoms are coming back strong when you look at how well ‘Family Guy’ and ‘Two and a Half Men’ are doing, and that really bodes well for the industry.”
Mr. Cook noted that while the company will be offering a number of strips for 2009, including “Earl,” “American Dad,” “How I Met Your Mother” and “Futurama,” the conditions of the marketplace have convinced Twentieth to consider some of its dramas, which generally are sold into weekly syndication or exclusive to cable, as potential strips for the 2009 season. Among the series the company is expected to have ready will be “Prison Break” and “Bones.”
“The marketplace is entertaining different notions for dramas, especially those that are more serialized,” he said. “That to us is an interesting prospect, where I could see these play well in daytime and early fringe. But we’re still in the talking stage at this point.”
With 2008 dry on off-net product, other distributors are looking toward cable to fill the gap. Warner Bros. is expected to start talking with stations soon for HBO comedies “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Entourage,” which could debut in fall 2009.
Debmar-Mercury has sold “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” to TBS, with a syndication window set to begin in the fall of 2008. Debmar Co-Presidents Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein have already found off-cable success with “South Park” and expect a similar response to “House of Payne.”
“We really are not actively looking for off-net product, but when we see a brand name such as Tyler Perry, it helps cut through some of the clutter when we introduce the programs to stations,” said Mr. Bernstein. “Having a big brand is more important than finding something that just happens to be working on another network.”
Debmar recently completed a deal to distribute two heavyweight series from Discovery, “Deadliest Catch” and “American Chopper.” It’s approaching stations with the shows for weekend play next fall.
“We clearly looked at this and thought that these were special shows with broad appeal to audiences,” said Mr. Bernstein.
Audiences also can expect a heavy dose of MTV this fall, with “Punk’d,” “Cribs” and “Pimp My Ride” all set to launch and fill the off-net dearth.
“The syndication marketplace is as robust and vibrant as ever,” said Hank Cohen, president of Trifecta Entertainment, which will distribute “Punk’d” this fall. “Just as I have always thought, I think it still comes down to the product, and I am confident that again this year we have programming that stations are going to believe will find an audience.”
Fellow off-MTV series “Cribs” and “Pimp My Ride” will be taken to stations by Litton Entertainment for the fall. Litton also snagged “Storm Stories” from the Weather Channel to sell as a strip or a weekend play.
“There are a number of reasons the timing is right for this product,” said Dave Morgan, president of Litton. “First, first-run syndication has proven to not work on an economic model. Second, the development of ideas from syndication companies has grown stale because of genres like court shows that dominate and talkers that are very hopeful but have failed. Third, I think that the audience is changing rapidly and the money in the syndication first-run area is not enough to make the development process relevant to that audience.”
The interest in cable product, however, does come with a downside, according to Mr. Bernstein.
“There have been a couple of shows from cable that worked in syndication, including ‘South Park’ and ‘Sex and the City,’ which really found great success,” he said. “The danger in the marketplace, however, is that when you start looking at it, once everyone is saying, ‘Let’s take this, and let’s take that’ out of cable, they can’t all work, which will make stations wary of off-cable product—and then you’ve killed the golden goose.”