More Years of LaughsAhead for 'Hope,' 'New Girl'

Fox grants two comedies the chance for a rich syndication afterlife

Fox has rewarded Raising Hope and New Girl with early renewals, virtually guaranteeing both shows will head into syndication—the ultimate goal of any TV producer with a practiced eye on the bottom line.

While New Girl, now in its second season, was heralded as last year’s breakout hit, Raising Hope has been, at best, a utility player since its premiere three seasons ago. Fox has stood by both shows, and Twentieth—Fox’s syndication arm—has high hopes for the programs in broadcast, cable and subscription video-on-demand (SVOD). (Raising Hope is already available on Netflix and Hulu Plus; New Girl is on Hulu Plus.)

“The performance on the network is the No. 1 factor that drives a show’s sale, and then the deal is No. 2,” says Bill Carroll, VP, director of programming, Katz Television Group. “No. 3 is the needs of the buying stations. If stations have no needs, then the deal doesn’t matter. If they do have needs, the deal will be tailored to the major [station] group that wants the show.”

2014 Sitcom Field Just About Set

Raising Hope will premiere in syndication in 2014, and most of the sitcom deals for that year are already done. Warner Bros.’ Mike and Molly and CBS Television Distribution’s Hot in Cleveland are already sold; Debmar-Mercury is still working on Anger Management. Meanwhile, Warner Bros.’ Two and a Half Men, Sony Pictures Television’s Seinfeld and Debmar-Mercury’s House of Payne all launch new cycles that year.

“Coming off the heels of deals for Modern Family, The Middle and Community, all of which launch this fall, it doesn’t look like there’s a lot of demand for new sitcoms in 2014,” Carroll says.

Three station groups steer off-net sitcom deals in the nation’s top markets: Tribune, Fox and CBS. Tribune has recently turned away from sitcoms and toward first-run programming; this fall, the group is focusing on Arsenio in late-night slots once occupied by sitcoms.

Fox recently purchased two huge network hits—Warner Bros.’ The Big Bang Theory and Twentieth’s Modern Family—so it can now afford to be choosy about its pick-ups. CBS, meanwhile, has been actively buying sitcoms, most recently acquiring Warner Bros.’ Mike and Molly and 2 Broke Girls for 2014 and 2015, respectively.

In 2015, New Girl will debut alongside 2 Broke Girls. Still unknown is whether ABC Studios’ Cougar Town, ABC/Sony’s Happy Endings, Warner Bros.’ Suburgatory and Twentieth’s Last Man Standing will make it into syndication, thus giving New Girl some competition. (All of today’s different distribution platforms mean that even shows that don’t make it a full four years can be syndicated somewhere, but not at the same pricing levels as a show that achieves that full fouryear run of episodes on a broadcast network.)

Looking to Follow Lopez and Reba

Twentieth is pitching Raising Hope as a “diamond in the rough,” like two other surprise syndie performers before it: Warner Bros.’ George Lopez and Twentieth’s Reba.

“While it’s not a Big Bang Theory or Modern Family in terms of its ratings, we went back and looked at shows that were similar in terms of audience composition and demographic ratings that went on to become big successes in syndication,” says Steve MacDonald, Twentieth executive VP/general sales manager of cable sales. “If those shows, which weren’t great network shows, could do well, we thought that gave us some great hope.”

Airing on ABC from 2002-07, George Lopez was more of a mid-rated sitcom. Reba, on The WB, was the 32nd-rated sitcom out of 46 in its second season. In syndication, however, both shows thrived. Reba was the second-highest-ranked offnet sitcom among young women in cable in its premiere season on Lifetime in 2006-07. And George Lopez surprised the industry in its first syndication season in 2007-08, climbing 55% from its 2.2 premiere to a 3.4 live-plus-same-day household rating by the end of March 2008.

Raising Hope
—which stars two acclaimed dramatic actors, Martha Plimpton and Garret Dillahunt, hamming it up—opens Fox’s Tuesday nights. In its third season, Raising Hope averages a 2.1 most current rating among adults 18-49, ranking it 65th among all entertainment series in primetime’s key demographic.

Overall, there’s probably more anticipation for New Girl, which in its second season averaged a 3.8 most current rating in the demo, tying it for 18th among all entertainment programs. New Girl is down 19% year-to-year in the 18-49 demo and 25% in viewers, but MacDonald notes that its lead-in, Ben and Kate, ended up failing, and that likely depressed New Girl’s ratings.

New Girl is without question one of the bigger sitcoms that will come to the marketplace,” MacDonald adds.

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