Sitcom forms own identity as off-net comedy

In broadcast syndication, a versatile sitcom that can deliver consistent ratings and solid male audience composition is indeed king.

Garnering a 3.3 average audience rating in its fourth syndie campaign, according to Nielsen Media Research — up 18% year to year — “The King of Queens” is now competing in the top echelons of the off-net comedy kingdom, even usurping the venerable “Friends” (3.2 AA) while trailing only “Seinfeld,” “The Simpsons” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

“It’s not a show that went into the marketplace with the same degree of buzz as ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ ” concedes Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz TV. “But once it got into syndication, it has exhibited itself as a consistent performer.”

In fact, Carroll says, many station programmers initially viewed “King” as a companion to “Raymond,” but “it’s turned out to be a pretty consistent performer on its own.”

“A lot of people are finding ‘King of Queens’ that haven’t found it on the network,” adds John Weiser, president of distribution for Sony Pictures Television, noting that the series is up 44% this year in men 18-49.

Understandably, in what continues to be a lean era for sitcoms, “King” continues to earn big aftermarket coin for Sony and its other profit participants. Last year, Sony sold the second four-year cycle of “King” to TV stations covering more than half the country for a reported cash license fee of close to $1.5 million an episode, with another $200,000 per show

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coming in the form of national advertising.

For its first cycle, which ends in 2009-10, Sony secured $2 mil-

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lion per episode in licensing fees with barter advertising generating around $500,000 per show.

The skein now has cable coin factored in, bowing on TBS last fall. There also are eight full-season DVD compilation sets quietly filling the coffers.

All told, the “King’s” aftermarket revenue could easily surpass $1 billion in the next decade.

“We knew we had a really high-impact show,” says Weiser, who based the early syndie sales pitches for “King” around the “challenges” the skein has faced during its CBS run.

Airing at 8 p.m., he notes, the series has often had as many as “78 different lead-ins,” with stations running everything from gameshows to entertainment newsmagazines at 7:30.

Being able to consistently draw an aud in this environment boded well for “King’s” syndie run, Weiser reasons. However, he attributes most of the skein’s aftermarket success to its having “one of the best ensemble casts of all time.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” he says. “They’re bulletproof.”

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