Glut of network shows cuts demand for syndication

September 06, 1992|By David Tobenkin | David Tobenkin,Los Angeles Daily News

An oversupply of network programs is holding down the selling price of long-running series reaching first-time syndication, according to an industry report.

A bumper crop of new syndicated offerings, coupled with slack demand for reruns from Fox network affiliates and independent stations, means that the popular "Roseanne" series is selling for less than half of the $4 million that each episode of "The Cosby Show" syndicated for in 1988.

"There's a glut of programming off the networks and a dearth of time to run that product in," said Paul Bricault, an analyst with Carmel, Calif.-based media consulting firm Paul Kagan Associates Inc. and author of the report.

The number of new off-network programs jumped from five in the season to 15 in the 1992-'93 season, according to Paul Kagan figures.

On the supply side, 37 network shows will come to the syndication market by 1995, including "Roseanne," "Murphy Brown," "Designing Women," "Wonder Years," "Quantum Leap" and "In the Heat of the Night."

Demand for new syndication is dampened by the Fox network's expansion from five to seven nights of original programming -- cutting off demand for syndicated programming among 140 Fox affiliates. At the same time, the rapid growth of new cable and independent stations experienced in the 1980s has subsided.

Network megahit "Roseanne" will bow on the syndication market this year at between $1 million and $2 million per episode, said Dennis K. Gillespie, president of worldwide marketing and domestic features and off-network sales for Viacom Inc. Viacom is the syndicator of "Roseanne" and "Cosby."

"There are limits to what the marketplace can bear . . . and there is a wide variety of off-network product coming in the next few years," Mr. Gillespie said.

The prospect of diminished syndication value can be fatal for a show still on its first run, as Fox Inc. subsidiary Twentieth Television showed this year when it pulled the plug on "Anything But Love."

The Richard Lewis and Jamie Lee Curtis comedy was just short of the number of episodes needed for a successful syndication run.

"In 1985 that show would never have been canceled, it would have been kept for its perceived syndication value," said Kevin Tannehill, president of MTM Television Distribution. "But those values for 1995 were perceived not to be there."

Some distributors think that the crunch will be limited to certain overstocked categories of programming, such as comedies.

Sid Cohen, president of domestic television distribution for Metro Goldwyn Mayer Inc., said that he believes that the syndication market is awash in comedies but is lacking in dramas.

MGM's hour-long police drama, "In the Heat of the Night," will premiere in syndication this year.

"When you talk about one-hour action shows there is no glut," said Mr. Cohen. "This show counters the sitcoms so well."

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