More Years of Laughs Ahead 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
and CBS Television Distribution’s Hot in
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
, 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
. Still unknown is whether ABC Studios’
Cougar Town, ABC/Sony’s Happy Endings, Warner
Bros.’ Suburgatory and Twentieth’s Last Man
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
and Twentieth’s Reba.

“While it’s not a Big Bang Theory or Modern
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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