Off-Net Sitcoms See Spring Thaw

Distributors consider opening sales for Christine, American Dad

Spring may finally be upon the syndication business: Warner Bros. and Twentieth Television are strongly considering opening the market for two off-net sitcoms, The New Adventures of Old Christine and American Dad, this summer. The two shows would be the first to come to market after the recession kept deals in the deep freeze all winter.

“The assessment is that the marketplace is starting to turn around,” says Bill Carroll, VP of programming for Katz Television. “We're a bit more optimistic than we were a few months ago. Someone has to lead the way.”

Before Warner Bros. can make plans to sell Christine, the show's future needs to be solidified. Christine is on the bubble at CBS, but ABC is considering picking it up for a fourth season, which the show needs to have enough episodes for syndication. Neither Warner Bros. nor CBS would comment.

Christine has been a utility player on CBS, airing in different time slots. The show could pair well in syndication with Two and a Half Men, Warner Bros.' enormous off-net hit that also airs on CBS in primetime, because both shows are traditional multi-camera sitcoms that target a broad audience.

The uphill battle for Warner Bros. is that stations will push to acquire Christine, a mediocre performer, on an all-barter basis, say many sources. If that's true, Warner Bros. will have to decide if the sales effort is worth the return.

American Dad is likely to be an easier sale for Twentieth, which should have no problem pairing the show with its fellow Fox primetime animated series, Family Guy, or similarly with The Simpsons. Family Guy airs on the Tribune stations in major markets, while The Simpsons is a Fox-station stalwart, giving Twentieth an in with the two major off-net buyers. Both studios would prefer to get cash license fees for their shows in addition to barter, so they may end up waiting for pressure on stations to ease a bit.

While many sitcoms are sold for all-barter, it's not a trend that syndicators want to solidify. “With many shows going out on an all-barter basis, that's quickly becoming the norm. Once that becomes established, it will be an enormous task to get stations back to the idea that they have to pay cash,” says Chuck Larsen, president of October Moon Strategies.

Waiting for 'the big bang'

One show that stations are expected to be eager to pay cash for is Warner Bros.' The Big Bang Theory, which is only in its second season. Industry observers expect that show to come into its own next year, priming the pump for a big sale and a fall 2011 premiere.

“Sitcoms are always going to be television stations' bread and butter,” says Bob Cook, president and COO of Twentieth Television. “They are still excellent performers in every daypart.”

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