Syndication and Distribution

Lack of Sitcom HitsIs No Laughing Matter

Stations and cable networks cross fingers for next big thing 11/18/2013 12:00:00 AM Eastern

TV is facing yet another sitcom drought. Not since ABC’s Modern Family
launched in 2009 has a sitcom broken out in a major way. In 2011, Fox’s New Girl and CBS’ 2 Broke Girls seemed to
be headed in that direction, but both
have since fallen to earth. Out of last
year’s class, only Fox’s The Mindy Project
and ABC’s The Neighbors were renewed
for a second season. And while
critics have taken a shine to Mindy,
that’s not so much the case with The Neighbors.

In an attempt to rectify that problem, the broadcast
TV networks this fall launched 13 new sitcoms—with
one more, Fox’s Enlisted, to premiere in January. So far,
none are breaking out. CBS is seeing some momentum
with The Crazy Ones on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. (behind
TV’s biggest scripted hit, The Big Bang Theory) and
with The Millers at 9:30 p.m. on Thursdays. But even
those shows have a ways to go before they can be considered
big hits ready to command huge license fees.

 Why This Matters
Top-rated sitcoms are the fuel of the TV ecosystem. A lack of them means problems for everyone.

“CBS basically moved its success from Monday to
Thursday,” says an industry executive, noting that
Thursday nights, which take viewers into the
weekend, are a more lucrative advertising night
than Mondays. “They may have done it a year
too early though, because now they’ve sacrificed
Mondays in exchange for that success.”

“It’s really Big Bang Theory, Modern
Family
and then there’s everyone else,” says
Brad Adgate, director of research, Horizon Media,
sizing up the comedy landscape.

With the last major hit sitcom premiering four
years ago and now in syndication, TV stations and
cable networks have to be wondering what they can
fill their comedy coffers with next.

Timing Is Everything

For the moment, TV stations aren’t too worried.
Fox owns both The Big Bang Theory and Modern
Family
, and its stations do not expect to be in the
market for new sitcoms for a while. Tribune stations
have backed away from sitcoms in favor of
first-run programming—particularly Arsenio Hall in
late night. But Arsenio is languishing at a 0.7 liveplus-
same-day household rating, and its return isn’t
guaranteed. That might force Tribune back into the
sitcom business—eventually.

CBS’ December 2011 purchase of duopoly station
WLNY New York brought that station group
into the sitcom game in major markets. In June
2012, the group took Warner Bros. up on its pair of
offerings: 2 Broke Girls and Mike & Molly, which
will premiere in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Mike & Molly just returned to CBS’ nowstruggling
Monday-night lineup in the 9 p.m. hour,
replacing 2 Broke Girls, which moved back to 8:30
p.m. Mike & Molly premiered Nov. 4 at a 2.6 liveplus-
same-day rating among adults 18-49, down
from last fall but up nearly 40% from its season
finale in May.

TV stations didn’t pay much for either show, but
TBS did pay approximately $1.7 million per episode
for 2 Broke Girls, assuring that the network is keeping
a close watch on its performance.

Perhaps, some suggest, it’s an indication that TV
station executives know better than to place their
fates in someone else’s hands.

“We resigned ourselves to this situation a long
time ago,” one station exec says. “To think that we
are going to be able to sitcom our way to anything is
absolutely crazy.”

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