In television, most of the attention is paid to the young, new and fresh, like a fall premiere or a new premium drama. That’s not as true in syndication, however, where the name of the game is to stay on the air long enough to gather a habitual viewing audience.
This season has seen some of syndication’s oldest shows hit some eye-popping viewership highs. Towering over everyone is CBS Television Distribution’s Judge Judy, starring 71-year-old Judge Judy Sheindlin, a 5-foot-1 spitfire who is prepping to launch a new show, Hot Bench, this fall.
During February sweeps, which ran from Jan. 30 through Feb. 26, Judge Judy hit an 8.0 Nielsen household ratings average, up 7% from February 2013, and the show’s highest sweeps rating since February 2008. Judy led all syndicated shows, including CBS Television Distribution’s Wheel of Fortune and Warner Bros.’ The Big Bang Theory, for the third major sweeps in a row. The show also averaged its largest audience— 11.14 million viewers—in its 18-year history.
Judy accomplished all of that against NBC’s multiplatform coverage of the Winter Olympics, which forced several syndicated shows—including Warner Bros.’ Ellen and Extra, NBCU’s Steve Harvey, Disney/ABC’s Katie and Sony Pictures Television’s Dr. Oz and Queen Latifah—to drop the two Olympics weeks from their ratings averages.
While no court show even comes close to Judy—it more than quadruples the household rating of any of its competitors— all of the court shows were up in the February sweeps, including Twentieth’s Judge Alex, which will end its run after this season.
Veteran Talkers on the Upswing
Talk, especially shows hosted by veterans, also has been moving up this year. CTD’s Dr. Phil, in season 12, led the talkers for the seventh sweeps in a row, improving 3% from last February to a 3.5 full-sweeps average. Phil also topped the key women 25-54 demographic, improving 5% from last year to a 2.0.
While Ellen only counted two weeks in its sweeps average, it turned in its highest-rated February sweeps in the show’s 11-year history with a 3.2 household ratings average, up 19% from February 2013. Ellen host Ellen DeGeneres is coming off her Oscars-hosting high, a gig that helped earn the show its biggest audience (43 million viewers) since 2000.
Disney/ABC’s Live With Kelly and Michael, in its 26th national season, also continues to chart a growth course after Michael Strahan took the host chair alongside Kelly Ripa in September 2012. In February, Live jumped 11% over the prior February to a 3.1, again against Olympics competition and without dropping any of its ratings from its sweeps average.
Two other talkers—Steve Harvey and Debmar-Mercury’s Wendy Williams—also are showing strong growth. Harvey hit a 2.1 in the February sweeps, up 31% from its rookie February numbers in 2013, while Wendy Williams, in year five, jumped 23% year-to-year to a 1.6.
“I keep waiting for Wendy to explode into being a major power,” says one syndication executive. “The show just keeps getting stronger and stronger.”
Outside of talk, Steve Harvey also is scoring with Debmar-Mercury’s hit game show, Family Feud, which has been continuously on the air and hosted by several different people since 1999. (Feud premiered with Richard Dawson in 1976, but has taken two multi-year breaks since then.) With Harvey at the helm, Feud plays more like a comedy than a game.
In the February sweeps, Family Feud was up 9% to hit a 5.8, and it surpassed a 6.0 household rating in January—a rare feat in syndication. Feud also consistently beats or ties CTD’s two game heavyweights, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, among the key women 25-54 demographic. In sweeps, Feud was first in the demo, averaging a 3.0 to Wheel’s 2.8 and Jeopardy!’s 2.6.
“The audience seems to be gravitating to shows that have a lighter touch—that seems to be what’s building audiences,” says Bill Carroll, VP director of programming for Katz Media Group. “Going forward, certainly a number of things that are being developed for the fall are following this pattern,” Carroll adds, citing NBCUniversal’s Meredith Vieira, Debmar-Mercury’s Celebrity Name Game and Warner Bros.’ The Real.
HOPES DIP FOR CANCELED RAISING HOPE’S SYNDICATION PROSPECTS
Fox has canceled its critically acclaimed sitcom Raising Hope only a few months before the show was scheduled to hit syndication. While expectations aren’t especially high regarding the series’ syndie potential, it never helps when the show departs primetime just as its reruns start airing on TV stations and cable networks.
Raising Hope, distributed by Twentieth Television, is cleared in more than 90% of the country and will share a window on a trio of cable networks: CMT, FXX and WGN America. The show’s first three seasons are currently available on Netflix, and it can also be found on Hulu and Hulu Plus, with episodes for sale on Amazon.
Raising Hope will premiere in syndication this fall, along with Warner Bros.’ Mike & Molly, CBS Television Distribution’s Hot in Cleveland and Debmar-Mercury’s Anger Management.
On CMT, Hope is expected to be paired with Twentieth’s Reba, which launched on Fox last fall.
Raising Hope currently airs on Fox on Friday nights, where this season it has averaged a 0.7 Nielsen live-plus-same-day rating among adults 18-49. The show is produced by Twentieth Century Fox Television in partnership with Amigos de Garcia Productions. Greg Garcia is the creator. In season four, Mike Mariana took over as the showrunner and executive producer.