First-Run Syndicated Sitcoms
When I was a kid, I remember watching episodes of some of my favorite sitcoms in late Weekday and Saturday afternoons. Yet, these shows were not off-net sitcoms that debuted during prime time, but these shows debuted through first-run syndication. According to Derek Kompare’s book on television reruns called Rerun Nation, the mid-1980s saw 26 new first-run sitcoms. Stations saw an opportunity to revive fictional first-run programming because of the limited amount of hours coming from networks and with competition for the most popular half-hours being so tight. While off-network programming was the most prestigious and “familiarity sells,” station and station groups saw an opportunity to gain some independence for the networks (139-140). A thirty-two station group called New Program Group produced Small Wonder (140). Small Wonder was a sitcom about a family who lives with a robot who they pass off as a daughter.
Many other shows actually saw success in syndication after they were cancelled on their network runs. Silver Spoons, Punky Brewster, and Too Close for Comfort all made the switch to first-run syndication after a few years on the networks. Charles in Charge not only made the switch to first-run syndication after a year on CBS, but it completely revamped the show by adding a different family and including more slapstick humor. Charles’ best friend, Buddy, becomes more of an idiot during the show’s second chance. I personally would love to do more research into this era of first-run syndicated sitcoms because we simply do not have many recent equivalents, although two new first-run syndicated sitcoms did debut this fall, The First Family and Mr. Box Office, both of which have an astonishing order of 104 episodes each! Tyler Perry’s House of Payne also debuted with 10 first-run syndicated episodes. I would love to look into how these shows are targeted and what time they air in different markets. It will be fascinating to see how well these two shows do. I imagine that if they do well, we could see a revival of first-run syndicated sitcoms.