Sitcoms make a resurgence

Pre-NATPE report claims renewed interest

Off-network sitcoms are back in vogue thanks to all of the people watching “Two and a Half Men” and “Family Guy” since they kicked off in September in rerun syndication.

“There’s definitely a sitcom resurgence,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for rep firm Katz TV, in his annual pre-NATPE report to Katz’s 350 TV station clients.

Carroll touted Debmar-Mercury’s “House of Payne” for its “solid performance” in the Nielsens on TBS; the TV stations that bought “Payne” for the fall, he said, are brimming with optimism over its syndie potential. And the “well-written and critically acclaimed” comedy “Everybody Hates Chris,” from CBS TV Distribution, he continued, “is a very attractive offering for sitcom stations.” Many, including big-market Fox O&Os, have already locked it up for the premiere in September 2009.

Two other comedies for fall 2009, NBC Universal’s “The Office” and Twentieth TV’s “My Name Is Earl,” have “unique audience appeal,” Carroll said in the report, “and will provide needed freshening to existing sitcom blocks.” He reminded the stations, however, that both shows will run simultaneously on TBS, a rare breach in the exclusivity on which stations usually insist for sitcom reruns. The implication: Stations should use the nonexclusivity as a bargaining tool to drive down the license fee.

Among new talkshows, Greg Conklin, senior programmer for Katz TV, recommended that stations buy “The Bonnie Hunt Show,” from Warner Bros. Domestic Distribution. “Her background and skills make her a perfect fit for a daytime talkshow,” Conklin said, and Hunt “could be a long-term player, especially if she’s paired” with Warners’ “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

CBS TV Distribution’s “The Doctors,” hosted by five physicians from different specialties, also gets a nod from Conklin. He said it’ll work best “for daytime and early fringe, especially before 4 p.m.” In those time periods, Conklin continued, “Doctors” will be able to avoid, for the most part, going up against such syndie powerhouses as “Oprah,” “Dr. Phil” and “Judge Judy.”

In the gameshow category, Katz TV director of program research Lisa Hollaenderis high on NBC Universal’s “Deal or No Deal,” although she’s not crazy about the fact that the syndie half-hour will be a stripped-down version of the NBC primetime hour, with smaller prizes, fewer sexy models and lower-volume bells and whistles. But NBC U “has upped the ante on the game’s odds for success in syndication,” she said, “by signing Howie Mandel to lead the charge.”

Hollaender also recommends Debmar-Mercury’s “Trivial Pursuit: America Plays” and urges stations to slot the double runs in early fringe (4 to 6 p.m.) or daytime in a gameshow block.

For stations that schedule a daily courtshow block, Jim Curtin, senior programmer for Katz TV, said the newcomer that “offers the best opportunity” is Sony Pictures TV’s “Judge Karen Mills.”