Are the Rules of TV Syndication Outdated?
Broadcast Syndication describes the lucrative practice of turning TNT into the ersatz Law & Order channel, when it’s not also broadcasting endless reruns of Angel, Charmed, Bones and couple of others shows I have no real desire to watch regardless of which network attempts to force them on me. Conventional wisdom dictates the best shows for syndication are sitcoms with at least 100 episodes under their belt and a generally forgettable series conclusion – does anyone remember how I Love Lucy ends? Probably not. It just seems to go on and on forever. Of course, there are exceptions to the rules governing sitcoms; for the most part, it works better if they are easily recycled once they’ve completed an episodic revolution around the channel, as it were.
This same conventional wisdom also theorized the very elements making possible to never escape Seinfeld as long as you own a TV and receive any channels, make hour long dramas rather hopeless candidates for rebirth on the syndication circuit. I guess, TNT, cleared up that misconception. Of course, they weren’t the first to score a syndication hit with their cash cow – Law & Order; A&E was. Since this is not a post about the fabulousness that is Law & Order – a subject I could blather about ad nauseam – I’ll set it aside and get back to television syndication. There were other networks airing hour long dramatic programming well after their first run heyday – how else would I know of Perry Mason – but apparently, TNT has been the network most capable of making it profitable, or at least they make it seem that way. I have no understanding of the inner workings of syndication except a lot of the actors on all those 70s sitcoms got janky ass deals and often complain about this in their ghost written “memoirs”.
In the post “Leverage: The Season Three Job” I wrote as following:
I [also] appreciate cable’s tendency to go with shorter seasons. While shorter seasons have their drawbacks – as it relates to syndication deals – namely lower profit margin; striving for quality over quantity should always be encouraged. Longer seasons of even the best shows have a tendency to sag between sweeps periods. Shorter seasons allow for more diverse programing, since one show doesn’t monopolize a time slot for an entire conventional television season.
To date Leverage has produced 32 episodes (three have not aired) yet, the show is already in its third season. More importantly, I can say with all confidence, nearly every episode is flawless. However, the same cannot be said of Grey’s Anatomy – a show I thoroughly enjoy – which tends to produce bloated seasons of upwards of 27 episodes! I wonder how much more satisfying and tighter the episodes might be if there weren’t so damn many of them. In the age of DVD, torrents and Hulu why are we still fucking around with antiquated requirements and producers willing to delay profit earnings for a syndication future that might not materialize? I see you, Mad About You. Television is one way of getting content to viewers, not the only way. With serialized dramas, I find it infinitely more satisfying to hole up in my place for a weekend armed with a season worth of episodes of 24 – a show whose episodes I could not fathom watching slowly, painfully, one week at a time. Personally, I don’t know how y’all did it!
I have no idea where television should be going, but I know where we’ve been seems hopelessly out of step with the current desires, needs and attention span of the viewers.