tv Must-Read Facts About Television Syndication

Kellen Perry
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If you love TV, you've probably heard the term before: syndication. But what is television syndication, exactly? Simply put, syndicated shows are either "first-run," meaning they are "free agents" that are not owned by any particular network (like Star Trek: The Next Generation), or they're "second-run," meaning they used to belong to a network (like NBC and Seinfeld) but they now air elsewhere (these are reruns, essentially).

Despite the increasing popularity of on-demand streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, syndicated, over-the-air TV is still extraordinarily popular among viewers (Wheel of Fortune and Judge Judy dominate the ratings) and TV syndication statistics show they're highly profitable to the studios and talent involved (let's just say the titular 2 Broke Girls aren't broke anymore!). The shows that make the most in syndication, in fact, are also very popular online (see The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family), proving that it's the content that matters most, not the delivery system. Here are some must-read TV syndication facts and stats to get you ready for your next round of channel surfing!
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Some Network Shows Are Created with Syndication in Mind


Some Network Shows Are Created... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Must-Read Facts About Television Syndication
Photo: FX
It's called the "10/90 Model": take a couple of tried-and-true TV stars (such as Kelsey Grammar and Martin Lawrence) and give them a sitcom with a premise designed for longevity (such as the storytelling-friendly courtroom setting of FX's 2014 flop Partners). Once the pieces are in place, make a deal with the network that if the first 10 episodes do well in the ratings, 90 more episodes will be ordered, allowing the show to have enough episodes to sell into syndication.

What's wrong with this model? Critics say it values episode quantity over quality and leads to forced, formulaic storytelling (the quickly-cancelled Partners, for example, picked the stars before the premise).
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Some Syndicated Shows Are Sped Up to Allow for More Commericials


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Photo: NBC
Most contemporary sitcoms run around 21 or 22 minutes, with about eight minutes left over for ads. Older sitcoms like Seinfeld, however, originally ran for 25 minutes with only five minutes for commercials. So how does a network like TBS handle this potential loss of revenue when they air syndicated Seinfeld reruns? They speed up the show! It may sound crazy, but the episodes you see on TBS are actually several minutes shorter to free up room for ad space. They're subtle, but the cuts are there. So much for timing being the key to comedy...
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Many Syndicated Shows Are Retitled


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Do you remember Happy Days Again? What about CSI: Las Vegas? Timmy and Lassie? If these titles seem odd to you, you probably haven't watched a lot of syndicated reruns. Many popular shows were retitled for syndication so as to not confuse viewers who were still watching new episodes every week. So Happy Days, for example, became Happy Days Again so it would be clear that the Fonz didn't actually age in reverse or something. Viewers have since grown savvier about such things, thankfully.
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Seinfeld Has Generated More Than $3 Billion in Syndication


Seinfeld Has Generated More Th... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Must-Read Facts About Television Syndication
Photo: NBC
Seinfeld is unquestionably the most successful second-run syndicated show of all time: the show has generated over $3.1 billion (that's right: billion) in syndication fees since NBC aired the last episode in 1998. Not bad for a "show about nothing" that the president of NBC thought was "too New York" and "too Jewish" when he agreed to a measly four-episode run back in 1989. Jerry Seinfeld himself, by the way, has earned an estimated $400 million from syndication alone.
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Major Dad Made Syndication History


Major Dad Made Syndication His... is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Must-Read Facts About Television Syndication
Photo: NBC
NBC's Major Dad may not have the massive following of a Friends or Seinfeld, but it did make TV history when it became the first off-network comedy to go straight to cable. The military family sitcom aired on the USA Network instead of the more traditional route of being sold to local broadcast stations for syndication. Back in 1993 it also set a record cable syndication price of $600,00 per episode.
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Syndicators Can Show Episodes In Any Order They Please


Syndicators Can Show Episodes ... is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Must-Read Facts About Television Syndication
Photo: NBC
Fans of one-camera comedies like The Office, who are intimately familiar with their season-long story arcs (Pam + Jim 4 Life!), have a nasty surprise in store if they ever catch their favorite shows in syndication on networks like TBS: the shows are aired wildly out of order. A Season 2 episode will air the night after a Season 5 finale, for example, and there's seemingly no method to the madness. Older, multi-camera sitcoms with more "self-contained" storytelling could get away with this, but The Office? The reality (via Slate) is that it's in the station's best interest to mix things up, for a number of reasons:

- Some episodes are more popular than others, so it pays to play them more often.
- Holiday episodes do better during the actual holidays, chronology-be-damned.
- Sometimes stations don't have the entire series available to them, so they work with what they have.

Don't like the chaotic nature of syndication? There's always Netflix, Hulu, or box set DVDs.
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Syndication Saved Baywatch


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Love it or hate it, Baywatch was at one point one of the world's most popular TV shows, and syndication is almost entirely to thank for that. NBC cancelled the show after just one season in 1990, but it got a new life in weekly syndication shortly thereafter, airing for 10 more seasons in more than 100 countries. Reruns of the first-run syndicated series were also syndicated as part of a deal with the USA Network in 1997.
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The Stars of I Love Lucy Basically Invented Syndication


The Stars of I Love Lucy Basic... is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Must-Read Facts About Television Syndication
Photo: CBS
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz made reruns commonplace, and without reruns, there would be no syndication. The I Love Lucy duo made a deal with CBS in 1951 to produce the show on higher-quality film instead of the industry-standard blurry kinescope, allowing for decent looking reruns down-the-road (kinescope's quality wasn't up to snuff for repeated viewings). The couple also later struck one of the first major syndication deals in TV history when they sold 180 episodes of I Love Lucy to CBS for $5 million ($19.5 million today).