Season Four Key To Comedy Laugh Track'Cougar Town,' 'Community' exemplify annual dilemma for bubble shows 5/14/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern
ABC’S Cougar Town is traveling to TBS, sealing that show’s
fate and sending it into syndication. The deal had to come as a
relief to the show’s producers, who were holding their collective
breath until this key question was finally
answered: Would our show make it to the
magical fourth season so it could head
into the lucrative land of syndication?
“I have often said that a studio’s worst
day is when a network says that it’s going
to pick up a show’s third season,”
says Chuck Larsen, president of October
Moon Television, which represents
producers. “After the third season, the
studio faces the biggest deficits that it’s
ever going to have on that series, so you
are going to do everything you possibly
can to get to that fourth season.
“Most sitcoms probably run a de! cit
of $1 million an episode, so by the end
of the third season, the studio could be
in deficit by as much as $66 million, assuming 22 episodes a season,”
Thus, the frequent drawn-out discussions over whether to keep
so-called bubble shows on the air. NBC’s Community, produced by Sony
Pictures Television, also is caught in this dilemma. In fact, NBC’s 13-
episode pickup of the series makes SPT’s job harder when it comes to
syndication, because after the truncated fourth season there will only be
84 episodes to syndicate. Typically, studios need at least 88 and preferably
100. Community is already sold to Comedy Central (where it will be paired
with NBCUniversal’s 30 Rock) and to SVOD-platform Hulu Plus.
That precarious position also means the networks willing to step
in and save a sitcom’s skin can get it at a bargain price, which likely
explained TBS’ interest in Cougar Town. “TBS can promote it as an
original,” notes Larsen. Plus, the show won’t face the same ratings
expectations on TBS that it does on ABC.
Even if a show makes it through four seasons, syndication is not a guarantee
of automatic wealth. For example, SPT’s sitcom ’Til Death, which
posted low-to-mediocre ratings when it
aired on Fox, managed to make it into
syndication. But with only a 0.6 live plus
same day average household rating, the
show is not throwing off very much cash.
And syndicating shows is an expensive
business, with the costs of distribution,
marketing and residuals averaging approximately
$20 million per year.
Two years ago, HBO syndicated its
two critically acclaimed comedies, Curb
Your Enthusiasm and Entourage. But both
shows averaged just a 0.6 household
rating in late-fringe time slots. Last May,
HBO decided that keeping the shows on
the air was not worth it.
On the other hand, syndication can
play a part in keeping a declining show afloat. After seven seasons on
NBC, the network decided not to renew Scrubs. ABC, whose parent
company, Walt Disney Co., also owns the show’s producing studio,
decided to pick up the series, at least in part because Scrubs had lucrative
broadcast and syndication deals in place. Similarly, CBS picked
up Medium when NBC decided not to renew that series, because the
CBS-produced show was in profit due to its back-end deals.
“If you make $10 million on a low-rated show in syndication, I guess
that’s $10 million you didn’t previously have,” says one syndicator. “But
in general, when you are doing one of these iffy shows and you are
carrying a deficit, it’s better to stop it earlier than later.”