First-run syndicated television dramas from the late 80s-90s

Discussion in 'TV & Media' started by Aragorn, Oct 11, 2012.

  1. barnaclelapse

    barnaclelapse Commodore Commodore

    May 10, 2009
    Waverly, VA.
    My exposure to "Jack of All Trades" was waking up drunk in the middle of the night, squinting at the TV, asking myself "Is that...Bruce Campbell...?", and then going back to sleep.

    It wasn't a bad show by any means.
  2. cylkoth

    cylkoth Commodore Commodore

    Jan 16, 2003
    Boy, I really LOVED the theme music. Makes me wanna fly through space.

    Edit-and speaking of opening's amazing how long some of the openings were back then. The Renegade title sequence is 90 seconds long, while (in another youtube clip that was displayed after playing the linked clips here), CBS's latenight actioner Tropical Heat (part of their Crimetime after Primetime block, pre Letterman), clocks in at a whopping 2 mins!.
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2012
  3. DeepSpaceWine

    DeepSpaceWine Commander Red Shirt

    Jun 2, 2010
    Yes! I wrote at length about first-run syndication in a few DS9 threads about the show's ratings or trying to get people to understand what exactly syndication was.

    I was trying to compile a list of where all first-run syndicated shows were produced. I have the file somewhere but it was a wild list. Off the top of my head: Los Angeles/Hollywood, San Diego, Florida, Vancouver, Toronto, Alberta, Mexico, France, South Africa, western Australia, southern/eastern Australia, New Zealand. I had a list somewhere too.

    Syndicated shows seemed to favor these for the currency ratio (the same currency imbalance between USD & CAD that devastated Canadian NHL teams made it extremely lucrative to film up there), for the exotic locations. Many utilized local talent, which is why some Lord of the Rings actors had also appeared in Xena & Hercules. Ironically through that you can see a map of which places were well-connected and which were not (South Africa was very far off the beaten path).

    Syndication was great. It provided content for independent stations to compete against the big networks and syndicated shows by their nature appealed to currents in the mainstream that were not really being served by the networks (after NBC had an action pack for the mid '80s, action dramas tended to fade from the big three/four). Before UPN & WB, they often filled weeknight primetime or on the weekends in afternoons or primetime (Star Trek: TNG commonly aired Saturday, what was it, 6 or 7PM?). The weekend before cable became more commonplace was a dead zone past Saturday mornings (which was killed by E/I, but that is a story in itself). Networks did program on Saturdays til around 2000. They usually had a lot of sitcoms (Golden Girls was probably the most notable Saturday time-slotted show) and NBC had the great Pretender/Profiler pairing on Saturday nights until they destroyed it for a surefire hit like the XFL (rolls eyes). Everything else was just baseball or golf in the afternoons or if you were lucky, those cheesy B-movies running the gamut from sci-fi to horror, kung fu/karate films to Japanese monster films as well as reruns of shows like the '60s Batman or other action/sci-fi shows. Seriously, I remember a lull between when a lot of those movies/shows weren't aired locally and Saturday afternoons was just golf, baseball, with the only interesting thing to watch was Bob Ross' Joy of Painting or some PBS travel shows.

    The short of what ended the syndication boom was:
    - The rise of UPN & WB. They took up all the primetime weeknight slots pushing everything to the weekends. With more shows than ever before and less space, many were pushed to late night timeslots where they got negligible ratings. The top handful did keep timeslots in waking hours though.

    - The popularity of still-running sitcoms just entering syndication. Shows like Friends, Seinfeld, even The Nanny and some dramas like The X-Files, ER, once they entered syndication, began to off-set first-run shows. They flooded in over 97-98 and took the choice timeslots on Saturdays & Sundays. Yes, in at least one big market, sitcoms like The Nanny & Friends pushed Hercules & Xena into overnight hours (fans complained of timeslot changes with Herc & Xena around Jan 1999. In a few markets, they got pulled on the grounds of declining ratings though big picture that we know now- 98-99 saw ratings plunge across the board, network big & small, syndicated, whatnot).

    - Declining ratings overall. This was due to the rise of cable subscriptions and people spending more time on the internet (often for the first time, well first couple of years anyway). Broadcast networks were hit too, but the fringe areas always get hit first/hardest, thus the syndicated frontier. Complicating this was the popping of an ad rate bubble. From about 1995-2000, syndicated shows were able to charge ever-growing rates for ads, rates that reflected ratings growth in syndication over the early '90s, but not the late '90s. It popped in the early '00s recession. In fact, the 2000-01 season was described in advertising journals as the worst year for advertising in 50 years. Syndication was squarely hit by the fallout from this.

    - Collapse of international funding. A lot of these shows had a mishmash of international backers, including German & French entities. Highlander explicitly survived this way (US ratings below the cancellation threshold for at least half its run) and I suspect Baywatch did too (~95 or 96, its ratings fell away from the top 3. By the 95-96 season, Hercules, Xena, and DS9 shut out Baywatch from the top 3 ratings slots every week except for just a the smallest handful of weeks). Something happened around 2002 or so that made it hard for shows that could get renewed to do so (Lost World, Adventure Inc.). It was so bad, even ratings-leader Andromeda would have been cancelled if Sci-Fi Channel didn't step in and foot the bill (thus Season 5's dual arrangement).

    As for Rescue 3, I would wish it well, but I don't think it will fare too well. Tribune tried the same thing with Legend of the Seeker. It had tepid ratings and was cancelled after 2 years. One would have to sell shows internationally to subsidize their presence now. I'm not sure the international market is stable. Europe is entering the recession it was protected from for a few years due to all the economic drama going on there, there are serious concerns about China (ghost cities built to keep up construction spending, phantom steel betted as collateral for loans). The syndication boom occurred in the '80s and '90s, which were a very good time economically, just an early '90s recession (notice the biggest part of the boom occurred after this recession was over). More broadly, non-network shows have to get creative and usually be low budget to get made. They're like the Moneyball A's of the television world. To clarify....

    Currency differentials played a big role in lowering the total production costs of shows as well as localizing local acting talent. Canada was perfect, low currency, high quality actors (for the world). New Zealand also had fairly good talent (South Africa did not). The syndicated boom for cartoons got started in the mid '80s. Outside of Filmation (He-Man, She-Ra, Bravestarr), many shows did this by utilizing Japanese animation companies (again the currency differential), which had high quality talent & low cost due to the currency differential (Japan loves to maintain a cheap Yen since they're a net exporter). This boom lasted from the mid '80s to about 1999 when E/I cut off their funding source (advertising restrictions). Besides trying to keep costs down, to compete on tv, shows needed to spend at least something (a salary floor of sorts), which is where international financing was needed because evidently, American financiers were not forthcoming or were for only very few shows. Star Trek benefitted from having a big movie studio behind them (Paramount), who was big enough to partner another company to launch UPN (Warner Bros + Tribune= WB, Paramount + Cris-Cross= UPN). Some, like Babylon 5 were very efficient in keeping costs down (B5 actually came in underbudget). While JMS gets all the credit, the other half of B5's success was an old guy named Doug Netter who oversaw the production, including the CGI.

    In short (too late), I don't think the ratings are there. Even CW has horrific ratings (seriously, look their ratings up). They seem to be approaching/have crossed the unsustainable threshold and need international sales and/or DVD sales to support the shows. BTW, UPN & WB never turned a profit in their 11 1/2 year history. UPN was a much bigger money pit than WB was.

    And don't think this was the only time syndication boomed. It also boomed in the '50s & very early '60s. As television channels started to expand their broadcast hours, they needed more content to fill it. There were very few independent stations then (there were a few due to the collapse of DuMont Network in markets with 4+ tv stations. Indepenent stations really started to take off in the late '60s onward) so this was off-primetime programming (network primetime schedules were larger then than now due to extending an hour earlier [the time taken away from the networks with the implementation of the Prime Time Access Rule ~1971] and programming a full slate for Saturdays). Whereas there were quite a few companies involved in syndication in the '80s/90s, at this time, it was mainly Ziv and small companies putting out a series or two. The biggest shows from this time were Highway Patrol & Sea Hunt. Yeah, these shows tended to have more action compared to the networks too. A black & white forerunner to the '90s syndicated action boom.

    .... Ok, I'll try to post the list of syndicated shows I managed to gather in a bit.
  4. DeepSpaceWine

    DeepSpaceWine Commander Red Shirt

    Jun 2, 2010
    Ok, the list of first-run syndicated television series (excluding cartoons, game shows, court shows, talk shows, and international shows sold in US syndication [i.e. some British & Canadian series] unless they were explicitly co-productions):

    * Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94)
    * Friday the 13th: The Series (1987-90)
    * Sea Hunt [II] (1987-88)
    * Superboy (1988-92)
    * War of the Worlds (1988-90)
    * Dragnet [III] (1989-90)
    * 21 Jump Street (1990-91) [aired on Fox from 1987-90]
    * She-Wolf of London (1990-91)
    * Dracula: The Series (1990-91)
    * Street Justice (1991-93)
    * Baywatch (1991-2001) [aired 1 season on NBC in 1989-90]
    * Highlander (1992-98)
    * Renegade (1992-96) [aired on cable channel USA in 1996-97]
    * Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-99)
    * The Untouchables [II] (1993-94)
    * Time Trax (1993-94) [aired as part of PTEN]
    * Kung Fu: The Legend Continues (1993-97) [aired as part of PTEN]
    * Cobra (1993-94)
    * Acapulco H.E.A.T. (1993-94) [had a 2nd season air internationally only, not in the US]
    * Babylon 5 (1994-97) [aired as part of PTEN. Aired on cable channel TNT in 1998]
    * Universal Action Pack (1994) [wheel series of 2-hour movie of potential series. Among the aspiring series: Hercules, Vanishing Son, Knight Rider, Bandit, TekWar, Midnight Run]
    * Robocop: The Series (1994)
    * Thunder in Paradise (1994)
    * Forever Knight (1994-96) [aired on network in 1992-93]
    * Sirens (1994-95) [aired on network in 1993]
    * Robin's Hoods (1994-95)
    * Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995-99)
    * Vanishing Son (1995)
    * Pointman (1995) [aired as part of PTEN]
    * Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001)
    * One West Waikiki (1995-96) [aired on network in 1994]
    * Baywatch Nights (1995-97) [LOL. Does anyone remember this series?]
    * Flipper [II] (1995-97) [aired on PAX 1998-2000]
    * Land's End (1995-96)
    * Lazarus Man (1996) [aired concurrently in syndication & on TNT]
    * Psi Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal (1996-2000)
    * Viper (1996-99) [aired on network in 1994]
    * The Adventures of Sinbad (1996-98)
    * F/X: The Series (1996-98)
    * Tarzan: The Epic Adventures (1996-97)
    * The Cape (1996-97)
    * Two (1996-97)
    * Earth: Final Conflict (1997-2002)
    * Pensacola: Wings of Gold (1997-2000)
    * Nightman (1997-99)
    * Soldiers of Fortune Inc. (1997-99)
    * Team Knight Rider (1997-98)
    * Conan (1997-98)
    * Mike Hammer, Private Eye [4] (1997-98)
    * Due South (1997-98) [aired 1994-96 on network]
    * V.I.P. (1998-2002)
    * The Magnificent Seven (1998-99)
    * Highlander: The Raven (1998-99)
    * Mortal Kombat: Conquest (1998-99) [aired concurrently on TNT]
    * The Crow: Stairway to Heaven (1998-99)
    * The New Adventures of Robin Hood (1998-99) [aired 2 seasons in 1997 on TNT, then 1 season in US syndication in 98-99, and a 4th & final season internationally only in 1999]
    * Beastmaster (1999-2002)
    * The Lost World (1999-2002) [Season 1 episodes aired concurrently in syndication/on DirecTV]
    * Relic Hunter (1999-2002)
    * Amazon (1999-2000)
    * Cleopatra 2525 (2000-01) [part of the Back-2-Back Action Hour]
    * Jack of All Trades (2000) [part of the Back-2-Back Action Hour]
    * Andromeda (2000-05) [04-05 season aired concurrently on Sci-Fi Channel as well]
    * Sheena (2000-02)
    * Queen of Swords (2000-01)
    * The Immortal (2000-01)
    * Mutant X (2001-04)
    * Tracker (2001-02)
    * She Spies (2002-04)
    * Adventure Inc. (2002-03)
    * Legend of the Seeker (2008-10)

    * Tales from the Darkside (1984-88)
    * The Twilight Zone [II] (1988-89) [aired on network from 1985-87]
    * Monsters (1988-91)
    * Freddy's Nightmares (1988-90)

    These series premiered on premium cable (Showtime) and within a year, that same season aired in syndication. This was very profitable for such shows because they recouped all their costs with their original airing so everything in syndication was bonus revenue for them. As Showtime discontinued its sci-fi block, Sci-Fi Channel picked up many shows. These shows continued the practice of going to syndication. They had a larger audience in syndication than even on Sci-Fi until 2005 or 2006 or so.

    * The Outer Limits [II] (1995-2002) [Showtime 95-01, Sci-Fi Channel 01-02]
    * Poltergeist: The Legacy (1996-2000) [Showtime 96-98, Sci-Fi Channel 99]
    * Stargate SG-1 (1998-2008) [Showtime 97-02, Sci-Fi Channel 02-07]
    * Total Recall 2070 (1999-2000) [Showtime 99]
    * Stargate Atlantis (2005-10) [Sci-Fi Channel 04-09]
    * Stargate Universe (2010-12) [Syfy 09-11]

    Sitcoms/Family Series
    * Fame (1983-87) [aired on network from 1982-83. From what I hear, this is something like Glee done in the '80s]
    * Too Close for Comfort (1984-87) [aired on ABC from 1980-83. The first big sitcom to thrive in syndication (Ted Knight), it helped pave the way for many more]
    * Small Wonder (1985-89)
    * What's Happening Now!! (1985-88)
    * It's a Living/Making a Living (1985-89) [aired on network from 1980-82. Yeah, it's technically considered the same show despite being off the air for a few years]
    * Webster (1986-89) [aired on network from 1983-86]
    * Mama's Family (1986-90) [aired on network from 1983-84]
    * Silver Spoons (1986-87) [aired on NBC from 1982-86]
    * 9 to 5 (1986-88) [aired on network from 1982-83]
    * The New Gidget (1986-88)
    * Out of This World (1987-91)
    * Charles in Charge (1987-90) [aired on network from 1984-85]
    * Punky Brewster (1987-88) [aired on NBC from 1984-86]
    * She's the Sheriff (1987-89)
    * We Got It Made (1987-88) [aired on NBC in 1983-84. Both seasons had the same cast despite the gap in time]
    * The Munsters Today (1988-91)
    * The New Lassie (1989-92)
    * They Came from Outer Space (1990-91)
    * Harry and the Hendersons (1991-93)
    * The New WKRP in Cincinnati (1991-93)
    * Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1997-2000) [filmed in Alberta in a studio made from a former military base]
    * Police Academy: The Series (1997-98)

    And worth noting is The Jetsons (1985-87). It aired on ABC in 1962-63 in primetime (1 of 3 animated shows in primetime from then. Many would know The Flintstones but I bet few know what the 3rd show is) and was revived in syndication 22 years later.


    I won't list all the shows from the '50s in syndication because it will draw blank stares from almost everyone except maybe some old-timers but I will list the few big and/or recognisable ones-

    * The Lone Ranger (1950-57) [aired on/off season by season due to having huge seasons it would take a full year to rerun the season]

    * The Cisco Kid (1950-56) [actually was produced in color the entire time]

    * The Abbott & Costello Show (1952-54)

    * The Adventures of Superman (1952-58) [The series people remember, with George Reeves. Actually produced in color from 1955-58. Note that Bonanza premiered in Fall 1959]

    * Death Valley Days (1952-1970?) [Long-running Western anthology. Information is sketchy about this series. Indications are it ended in 1970 but aired several more years til 1975 as reruns]

    * Flash Gordon (1954-55) [aired on what was left of the DuMont Network in its final season with non-sports content and in syndication]

    * Highway Patrol (1955-59) [one of the top-rated shows until Star Trek: TNG. Filmed on the outer parts of LA or well out from the city in the countryside. If you want a good look at Southern California towns, streets, downtowns in the mid-late '50s and those classic cars, this is the show. AFAIK, Highway Patrol and Route 66 are the only tv series that filmed away from studios that give you a good look at what America looked like outside NYC & LA from the early '60s on back. Route 66 (CBS, 1960-64) filmed across the country in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Missouri, Texas, Arizona, Montana, Maine]

    * Sea Hunt (1958-61) [one of the top-rated shows until Star Trek: TNG. Might be the series with the largest percentage of screentime spent underwater. Aired on odd, calendar year format compared to even syndicated series of the time. Only a handful of '90s shows did (Robocop, Thunder in Paradise, PTEN shows except Babylon 5, which got stuck inbetween the 2 formats, explaining its odd airing pattern, a few others). The father of The Dude played diver Mike Nelson]

    * Mr. Ed (1961) [aired on CBS from 1961-66. Yeah, it premiered in syndication and the network picked it up. Racket Squad was too. Only a small handful of shows went the other way; the vast majority went from network to syndication]

    And just name-dropping some others: Boston Blackie, I Led Three Lives, Annie Oakley, Decoy, The Silent Service, Gray Ghost, Harbor Command, Lock-Up, Shotgun Slade, COronado 9, The Everglades, King of Diamonds, Ripcord and a few dozen shows nobody has heard of.

    And inbetween, there were a few that dabbled in syndication:
    * Lassie (1971-73) [aired on network from 1954-71]
    * Dusty's Trail (1973-74)
    * Future Cop (1977)
    [There might be one or two extemely short-lived series from the late '70s as well. Future Cop lasted mere weeks]
  5. cylkoth

    cylkoth Commodore Commodore

    Jan 16, 2003
    Seeker did not have tepid ratings.It was a ratings success in both it's seasons. I had hoped it's success would spark new interest in the first run scripted hour arena. But alas, the fates weren't so kind. The show came to an end entirely because of the Tribune Company's financial crisis. They choose not to pick up the 3rd season, due to their then pending bankruptcy filing. As the 'anchor' station group (a core group of major market stations reaching a sizeable portion of the country), that loss sealed the show's fate. ABC Studios could not find other stations located in those same markets that would pick up the show, and that's why it ended.

    And now that Tribune has emerged from bankruptcy, they are going back to their roots, with their pick up of Rescue 3. I kinda wish they'd try resurrecting Seeker, but a new, good ol' action hour on the horizon, is good news nonetheless.