Landing a new show on a network's fall schedule is fine and dandy, but getting a show past the deficit-finance phase and into off-network syndication is where the real payoff begins.
The Big Six broadcast networks unveiled their fall lineups earlier this month, and, combined, they will launch 33 new scripted series, 16 comedies and 17 dramas. The real bonanza for studios and distributors begin when any of those series reach the 100-episode mark—the hard-to-reach point that is the gateway to off-network syndication riches. But, of course, shows are syndicated with just a couple years' worth of episodes. Even so, few make it that far.
Vertical integration, increased competition from cable and the lack of patience at the major networks to allow new shows a chance to grow has made getting to syndication a tricky business. But once a show gets there, it can mean millions if not billions to a company's bottom line. Cable networks are lining up to pay top dollar for reruns of network dramas, while local stations seem willing to pay whatever it takes to get the hottest off-net comedies.
"What's important is maintaining and continuing the assets that we've developed in the past. That's the business of show business," says 20th Century Fox co-President Dana Walden. "If I had to put a higher priority on one or the other, I would certainly say returning shows because this business is so hard."
Walden's studio at 20th Century Fox Television actually returned the most programs on network schedules this fall and also managed to land seven new series for a combined 24 shows for the fall. A number of the veteran and new series are co-productions with other studios or networks—but the total was an all-time industry record.
Of the seven new shows, co-owned News Corp. entity Twentieth Television will handle the off-network syndication sales on six of them. In terms of returning series Boston Public
and Dark Angel, each received second-season orders, while Judging Amy, Family Guy, Titus, Roswell
will all see third seasons. Over the last 10 years, Twentieth Television has sold off-net products to cable and local stations, totaling well over $3 billion.
Viacom-owned Paramount TV Group landed a total of seven new shows on fall schedules, including five from Paramount Network TV and two from Big Ticket Television. Paramount Domestic TV will handle syndication sales on all seven if they get to that level. Viacom's King World division will handle three of CBS Productions' new fall offerings.
Warner Bros., which returned eight series including ER
and Friends, also landed five new shows on fall schedules. Co-owned Warner Bros. Domestic TV will handle the off-network deals on all five new series if and when they make it to syndication. Warner Bros. was the only major studio not to make a co-production deal with a network on any of its shows for the upcoming season.
Disney's Touchstone Television and Buena Vista divisions landed a total of 13 series on fall schedules, including five new programs. Buena Vista will handle syndication on three of the new programs.
Columbia TriStar, which has syndication output deals with a number of smaller studios, has the off-network rights to three new series including Fox's The Tick