The numbers aren’t what you’d call astronomical, but the ratings success of “The Big Bang Theory” is the latest sign of strength for comedies in syndication.

The series began its off-net run last fall and by December had toppled “Two and a Half Men” from its long-held position atop the ratings. That not only justified the high-priced terms paid for the show to Warner Bros. Television Distribution, but also boded well for the record deal for another high-rated sitcom, Twentieth Television’s “Modern Family,” which is set to begin its off-net run in 2013.

With shows like WBTV Distribution’s “Two and a Half Men,” up 15% year to date, 20th’s “Family Guy” up 18% and 20th’s “How I Met Your Mother,” up 42%, demand is high for sitcoms — as long as they can deliver.

“It’s all about the big shows,” says Twentieth prexy Greg Meidel. “Shows that really dominate schedules and that are gamechangers for the networks are in extremely high demand both on broadcast and cable. But then you get down to the next level, and it’s definitely more challenging to sell shows that don’t have the performance you see of the big dominant sitcoms that are out there.”

It may be a challenge to sell shows with smaller audiences, but the market is there as stations need enough shows — older and newer — to build the solid comedy blocks that can define them and bring in steady demographics. For example, ratings are up season to date for both “Seinfeld” (4%) and “Friends” (26%).

The overall picture is one that suggests a new golden age for syndicated comedies, says Ken Werner, prexy of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution.

“It has confirmed everyone’s faith in the genre coming on the heels of ‘Big Bang’s’ success and anticipation of ‘Modern Family,’ ” Werner says.

“Viewers are not only watching more comedies, they are expecting those comedies to be truly entertaining and the studios are delivering.”

The “Modern Family” deal tied up the last of today’s A-list sitcoms, but its richness promises a big payoff for whichever show can break out next. Among the possible contenders are the likes of “2 Broke Girls,” “New Girl” and “Suburgatory,” though they have a ways to go to prove themselves.

“While there are a number of solid comedies on the air that I believe will have a market, I don’t see another ‘Big Bang Theory,’ ‘Two and a Half Men’ or ‘Modern Family’ out there,” says Frank Cicha, senior programming VP of Fox Television Stations. “Not just yet.”

NATPE 2012
Congloms after next big get | Syndie concerns grow as daytime yakkers stack up | Distribs, stations guard firstrun syndie shows from web | Worthy successors | What’s coming to market | Comedies hit syndie paydirt — for now |