Off-net syndication may see lean times come 2006, when the number of prime time shows that have made it to 100 episodes are few and far between, says Bill Carroll, vice president of programming for Katz Television Group.
This year, there are 36% fewer half-hour shows on prime time than there once was, and reality programs, which cannot be aired in syndication, have taken over a good portion of network schedules.
Except for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
and CSI: Miami, no network has launched a drama to big ratings in years. Self-contained crime dramas, such as CSI and Law & Order, tend to repeat well, but serial dramas, such as ER and Providence, have a tougher time on the rerun circuit.
Many dramas also are being repurposed on cable soon after they begin airing on network prime time, and industry executives wonder whether all the exposure will reduce the shows' value once they make it to syndication.
From this year's crop of sitcoms, ABC's three new shows—8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, Life With Bonnie and Less Than Perfect
—and CBS's Still Standing
have a shot of making it to syndication. Still, until a show is an established hit, with 100 episodes behind it, a syndicator cannot seal a deal with stations.
The lack of inventory could leave station groups like Fox and Tribune, which rely heavily on syndicated comedy blocks, without much to look forward to. It also could mean that viewers have several more years of Friends, Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond and Will & Grace reruns ahead of them.