Monday, March 13, 2017
The key to sitcom syndication success
Why are some sitcoms big hits in syndication while others aren’t? And just because a sitcom is a big hit on a network does not necessarily mean that will translate to syndication. Likewise, certain sitcoms that got meh ratings originally do gangbusters in future runs.
A recent example of that is LAST MAN STANDING. On ABC the show has done respectably on Friday nights. Nothing to write home about but good enough on a forgotten night of television that it keeps getting renewed. But this year in syndication that show is a SMASH. It’s getting sensational numbers. Way better than expected. Way way better than some bigger primetime hits like MODERN FAMILY.
MODERN FAMILY has not fared well in syndication (despite its ratings, accolades, Emmys). USA was hoping to build a comedy line-up around it, but MODERN FAMILY under-performed to where USA scrapped all plans for original comedy whatsoever. I know this for a fact. I had a pilot in contention that was suddenly dead along with all the other pilots they had in development at the time.
So why is LAST MAN STANDING so much more successful than MODERN FAMILY? And why is BIG BANG THEORY still a powerhouse? And EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND? Why was WINGS a middling performer for NBC but a juggernaut for USA? Why does GOLDEN GIRLS continue to outperform most comedies that came after? And why does FRIENDS continue to be a ratings monster around the world?
Disclaimer: Like with every theory you can find exceptions. I realize that. MASH would be an exception for example. I say that because if I didn’t the comment section would be flooded with people listing exceptions. I’m making a general point here.
A common denominator among these successful shows is that they’re multi-camera, but that’s not the answer. I think a primary reason they do so well is that you don’t have to watch them.
You just have to listen.
And dialogue jokes play better for casual viewing. Dialogue jokes drive multi-cams because they’re playing to live audiences. James Burrows always maintained that CHEERS was a radio play. You could enjoy it just as much by listening to it.
There’s a comfort level in general to sitcoms. Multi-cams add to that comfort by making them easy to follow. And I’ve found that if you have a show with lots of jokes, fans will watch reruns, even if they’ve already seen the episodes. Maybe they missed a few jokes the first time, or something they thought was funny before tickles them again.
Yes, multi-cams, especially family multi-cams are not sexy and cutting edge. They’re usually ignored by award shows and ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. But believe me, networks and studios have taken note, and they’d gladly trade a boatload of Emmys for one LAST MAN STANDING.