Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of Twentieth Television, has three teenage sons, all of whom love Family Guy, Fox's animated sitcom that's had almost as many lives as a cat.
But even those three young men were surprised to discover that the show is running each night on Tribune's KTLA Los Angeles, as well as on TBS and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Now, Cook says, they watch the show anytime they can, no matter where they find it.
Just as in Cook's household, young men are stumbling across Family Guy on TV stations across the country, and then sticking with it once they find it. “I don't think it's an atypical scenario that people don't realize the show is airing on their local TV station,” Cook says. “That process of discovery represents some considerable growth opportunities for these stations. Men aren't used to going there to find their fare, but they are tuning in once they figure it out.”
So far, that's been true in spades. Family Guy is turning in the best young male ratings of any new off-net sitcom in six years, as well as fighting it out with Warner Bros.' rookie Two and a Half Men and CBS' Everybody Loves Raymond for the genre's top spot.
Season to date, the show is averaging a 3.8 national household rating, according to Nielsen Media Research, making it the third-highest-rated off-net sitcom in syndication behind Men, which is averaging 4.6 for the season, and Raymond at 4.0.
But no one touches Family Guy when it comes to the young male demographics. Seth McFarland's animated laughfest leads the pack with a 3.3 average season-to-date rating among men 18 to 34—a demographic that syndicators usually don't even consider because they are so hard to reach—and 2.6 among men 18 to 49. Men is the show's closest competitor, holding second place in both demos with 2.0 among men 18-34 and 2.3 among men 18-49.
That one-two punch was what Tribune was counting on when it paid big bucks for both shows. “This was a very strategic move on their part,” says one industry insider. “The Tribune stations previously have been known by viewers and the industry as having the more female-oriented sitcoms, such as Will & Grace, Everybody Loves Raymond, Friends and Sex and the City. They decided they needed a real hammer to get the men in. They are just thrilled with some of the local people-meter numbers that they are seeing.”
Now, Tribune can better compete for male attention with the Fox stations, many of which fill late fringe with more male-skewing off-net sitcoms such as The Simpsons, South Park, King of Queens and Seinfeld. Already, Tribune's WPIX New York has seen Family Guy improve its 7:30 p.m. time slot by 42% among men 18-49. In fact, both Family Guy and Men are working wonders for WPIX, with Men improving ratings among males 25-54 at 7 p.m. by 57% and at 11:30 p.m. by 40%.
That success has lifted the ratings of the entire late-fringe block, says Marc Schacher, Tribune's senior vice president of programming: “Even though we've moved Friends and Raymond and Will & Grace back into the midnight and 12:30 a.m. slots, those shows are getting a little bit of a halo effect from the success of these two newcomers.”
That effect also seems to be applying to Family Guy's cable runs. On TBS, the show's ratings are up 30% in households, 56% among men 18-34 and 57% with men 18-49. On Adult Swim, the show is flat in households, but up 8% among men 18-34 and 13% for men 18-49.
And Tribune's Schacher thinks both shows have only just begun to grow. “In order to try to define our own expectations, we went back and looked at Seinfeld, Friends and Raymond and how they launched,” he says. “All three shows clearly had a 'pattern of build' through the fall, and it was around February when they hit a peak. We think they are both still building.”