Big 4 found more success with new series this past season

The 2011-12 season saw a dramatic improvement in the number of renewals for freshman scripted series made by the Big Four vs. the previous season, which could refresh a syndication pipeline in need of fresh content.

Fox, CBS, NBC and ABC are bringing back 14 of the 40 comedies and dramas they sought to launch in the recently concluded season, according to data from Nomura Equity Research.

That’s markedly better than in 2010-11, when nine scripted series were renewed, a number inflated by the fact that five of those series were introduced in the midseason of that year, and one of them, Fox’s “Breaking In,” had a cancellation reversed. Only four of the 14 renewals this season were midseason launches, which means they are less likely than those that survive a standard 22-episode run to enjoy a long run on the air.The strength of renewal levels extends into sophomore series as well. Only one of the eight scripted series that were rookies in 2010-11 will not be back for a third season this fall: NBC’s “Harry’s Law.”

While the focus of upfront season is on new series orders, renewal rates offer a vivid snapshot of the overall health of primetime for the Big Four, which drive the overwhelming majority of dollars flowing into the syndication aftermarket, where the studios make back their investments and then some. That doesn’t include the CW or cable, where off-net syndication isn’t nearly as lucrative.

Warner Bros. TV Group topper Bruce Rosenblum noted as much in his remarks Wednesday at the Barclays Capital media and telecom confab in Gotham. “While new series are important to repopulate our portfolio, it’s returning shows that provide the most value,” he said.

However, whether the increase in network renewals could be a sign of health is subject to interpretation. The four freshman renewals made by NBC were for series that averaged just 2.2 million viewers in the 18-49 demographic as of May 13. That’s lower than the averages for renewals at ABC, where four first-season renewals averaged 3 million; Fox, where four renewals averaged 3.4 million, and CBS, where two renewals averaged 4.1 million.

But the 18-49 averages for renewed freshman series at ABC, CBS and Fox are lower last season than in 2011-12, so there isn’t too much grading on a curve going on here.

The fall of 2010 saw an alarming decrease in the number of viable scripted series launched by the Big Four, with just 23% reaching a second season. Nomura analysts dubbed last year a “disaster” for the syndication marketplace.

But the fall of 2011 saw a sharp rebound, with last week’s renewals yielding a 41% rate for series earning a second season. That’s the highest level since the 50% threshold reached in 2009-10. Ten of the 14 series renewed amassed more than 20 episodes in season one, which could help offset the shortfall last season, when only five renewed shows had that many.

That the major studios generated 14 first-year renewals from the Big Four is all the more surprising considering both Sony Pictures Television and CBS TV Studios didn’t have any. Both freshman series CBS renewed were from Warner Bros. TV, which produced “2 Broke Girls” and “Person of Interest,” in addition to a third for ABC, “Suburgatory.” 20th Century Fox TV had four: Fox’s “New Girl” and “Touch,” and ABC’s “Last Man Standing” and “Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23″ (ABC). Universal TV had four: NBC’s “Grimm,” “Up All Night,” “Whitney,” and “Smash.” ABC Studios nabbed three: ABC’s “Once Upon a Time,” “Revenge” and”Scandal.”

Only one of the sophomore season series has already been sold into syndication, CBS’ “Hawaii Five-0.” Most of the nine third-year series on the air have already been sold, with the exception of CBS’ “The Good Wife” and NBC’s “Parenthood.”

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