What made first run syndication non-profitable?

Discussion in 'Future of Trek' started by Dac, Jan 4, 2012.

  1. Dac

    Dac Commodore Commodore

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    After mulling over a few "new Star Trek series should be THIS!" threads over at /r/startrek, I wondered to myself...why aren't shows sold to syndication on their first run anymore? Or moreover, why since Voyager does Trek HAVE to be on a major network?

    TNG and DS9 only really worked as well as they did thanks to the syndicated format in which it was distributed. Now, I've no idea exactly how this worked, but I believe it was something like selling it on an episode by episode basis to the many local networks around the country and internationally?

    If so, why has this fallen out of favor? Is it simply to try and make a quicker, bigger buck solely out of advertising? But with so many TV shows failing straight out the gate, surely a model which props up new shows for a while with direct income from selling episodes is a better option?

    The only reason I bring it up is because it seemed to work rather well for TNG and DS9, Voyager managed to last 7 years thanks to being the posterboy for UPN, but when the network folded Enterprise was a casualty of that collapse (Yes, it became the CW like a year after Enterprise was canceled, but I'm sure "new" demographics came into the talk of canceling it).

    From the way I understand it, it just seems like the most logical system for propping up a new TV show in the long run. I mean, look how bad early TNG and DS9 were, if they aired today we'd have only got "Code of Honor" or "Babel" as examples of what those shows could do. Now, if a new Star Trek series started today it'd have to be gold out of the gate, regardless of how it's distributed. My point is that it seems to give shows a wiggle room network TV begrudges to give.

    Or I've misunderstood how the format works, some nice American person is going to yell at me for wasting time and this has all been for nothing. :p
     
  2. Temis the Vorta

    Temis the Vorta Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    As far as I know, syndication is still profitable for sitcoms and shows like Friends and The Simpsons, but it seems to have fallen out of favor for anything serialized.

    With old episodes so easy to get on the internet and Netflix, are people really that motivated to watch syndicated reruns?
     
  3. Harvey

    Harvey Admiral Admiral

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    What does that have to do with first run syndication?
     
  4. Temis the Vorta

    Temis the Vorta Fleet Admiral Admiral

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  5. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    As I understand it, there were several factors behind the decline of first-run syndication. Probably the most important one was the rise of new networks like the WB and UPN. As more and more local stations became network affiliates, there were fewer independent stations available to air first-run syndicated shows in prime-time slots. If they bought them at all, they generally ran them late at night or on weekend afternoons, so they didn't get as much exposure or ratings. That combined with a glut of programming -- you had too many syndicated shows competing for a shrinking number of markets, making it doubly hard for any syndie show to make a profit.

    I may be wrong, but I think that someone who was involved with Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda once said that Tribune Entertainment, the company that produced that show and many other first-run syndicated shows like Earth: Final Conflict, BeastMaster: The Series, and Mutant X, contributed to the problem by being so cheap with its shows -- putting economy over quality, not giving its shows enough money to avoid looking cheesy, constantly firing its actors and showrunners and replacing them with cheaper ones who didn't do as well, and just generally filling the airwaves with low-quality first-run programming that viewers turned away from. The first-run market was already in trouble, but that added more nails to its coffin.

    And I daresay that another factor is the rise of "reality" TV, which has been bad for original scripted programming all across the board, since it's so much cheaper to produce. "Reality shows" have pretty much taken over first-run syndication these days.
     
  6. AviTrek

    AviTrek Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Legend of the Seeker was the last attempt at a first run syndicated drama. It did manage to last 2 seasons, so it's theoretically possible for a show to run in syndication. However the show was basically cancelled when Tribune decided not to buy the 3rd season for its stations. So if a syndicated show can be cancelled by one company just as easily as a network show, then there is minimal advantage to going the syndicated route to begin with.
     
  7. C.E. Evans

    C.E. Evans Admiral Admiral

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    IIRC, the situation with Legend of the Seeker was that Tribune was getting out of the syndication business at the time (almost all of the shows formerly syndicated by Tribune--like Family Feud, South Park, and Soul Train--were forced to find new homes elsewhere). Seeker apparently came very close to being picked up by the SyFy Channel and continuing there, but the deal fell through.
     
  8. KeepOnTrekking

    KeepOnTrekking Commodore Commodore

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    ^ I think the "reality" TV show is definitely the main factor in today's programming decisions. All the Survivor, Amazing Race, Dancing with the Stars, American Idol type shows on network schedules. Talk shows and "judge" shows practically fill some local station's schedule from sunrise to sunset. All the soap operas being bumped off networks are being replaced by more talk shows or game shows. It's cheaper to produce than any scripted storytelling series and can make the same profits (or better since it's cheaper to produce). It's basically about greed and making more money.:eek:
     
  9. AFEK ESLCAFE W

    AFEK ESLCAFE W Lieutenant Commander Newbie

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    Not that American television was ever educational (Sorry for that remark, LeVar Burton and Fred Rogers...), but wouldn't that just lead to an even dumber nation of Americans growing up in a society with academic and intellectual decay? :confused:
     
  10. BrownShatner

    BrownShatner Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    In addition to what has been said, Cable/Satellite penetration was much lower in the late 80s/early 90s. People were stuck with the 6 channels they could pick up with rabbit ears, which made syndicated programming easier to find. TNG reruns would often score huge local ratings competing against the evening news on all the other channels.

    (Additionally, cable did very little original programming - it was mostly the same reruns and old movies that were being shown on local independent channels.)

    Another huge factor was station ownership rules. Back then (IIRC), a company could only own two stations. So there was a lot more 'hands-on' program selection. Now, most stations have been bought out by conglomerates or the big networks, and it seems like the programming is a lot more generic.
     
  11. MacLeod

    MacLeod Admiral Admiral

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    Perhaps some of it is to do with ancilarry sales. After all if you only show it and not make it. You don't gain anything extra from the likes of DVD sales/ International sales. Sure it might only make upa fraction of the overall profit from a show
     
  12. MacsRock

    MacsRock Cadet Newbie

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    I think it has to do with what people are watching. Seems all that is on is crime drama, reality shows, and sitcoms. People don't seem to watch science fiction anymore.

    Are there any (good) current science fiction shows on right now? I ask for two reasons: 1) I don;t think there is, and 2) I'd like to learn of any I might not know about :)
     
  13. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I don't see what that has to do with it. Not all first-run syndicated shows were SF/fantasy. There were syndicated crime dramas, sitcoms, game shows, talk shows, etc. as well.


    There aren't really any future/space shows on US TV at the moment, but there are definitely good SF shows, such as Eureka, Warehouse 13, and Alphas (though W13 is more fantasy than SF). Terra Nova's iffy on the quality side, but they've said they're going to improve the writing if it gets a second season.
     
  14. Temis the Vorta

    Temis the Vorta Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    TV has always been a money-driven business. But Legend of the Seeker is interesting to contrast with Game of Thrones - which is in the same basic genre, but far more expensively produced, and it's a huge hit. On HBO. Which just goes to show you that spending more money on production can actually pay off, assuming you're in the right place.

    Talking about TV is like talking about restaurants. You can't make a sensible comparison between a four star restaurant and McDonald's. They serve different food at different prices to different people (or the same people, but with different expectations).
    Programming is more diverse nowadays because of the huge increase in outlets. There wasn't a large range of high-quality shows aimed at niche tastes like we have today in the 80s and early 90s (or if there were, I sure missed them!)

    Do you not have cable? I don't watch police procedurals, reality shows or sitcoms, and I have a DVR full of stuff that I barely have time to watch. And that's without any premium-tier cable stations either.

    I'm not into any of those, but I do watch The Clone Wars, Falling Skies, and The Walking Dead. If you want to be liberal about definitions, you could count Person of Interest as very light sci fi. Plus fantasy/horror: American Horror Story, Grimm, Once Upon a Time. When I can, I'll start in on Game of Thrones.

    This season has seemed skimpy on the genre front because the networks are holding a lot of the most interesting sounding shows till midseason (Jan-March): Alcatraz, Touch, The River and Awake will be debuting soon.

    And 2012-13 may be shaping up to be a bumper crop of sf/f. I've come across about 60+ shows in development, more or less evenly split between sci fi and fantasy/supernatural/horror. The thread for tracking developments is here.
     
  15. Admiral Buzzkill

    Admiral Buzzkill Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    It was mainly the absorption of so many formerly independent stations into the WB and UPN.
     
  16. MikeRy71

    MikeRy71 Ensign Red Shirt

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    Outcasts on the BBCA is pretty good as well as Falling Skies. Other than being good entertainment, one wonders, how did Dr. Who survive for roughly 40 years?
     
  17. Temis the Vorta

    Temis the Vorta Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    BBC license fee. No parallel exists in American TV, or is likely to ever exist. Poor PBS is always under attack, despite being supported by the loose change found under Congressional sofas. Can you imagine the uproar if they tried to launch a "silly sci fi series" with taxpayer dollars?

    If they want to survive, they have to stick to ballets, operas and documentaries that are too boring for most folks, and as we all know, if it's boring, it must be good for you. ;)

    And I'm pretty sure Outcasts has been cancelled, hasn't it? I tried watching a couple episodes, and eh...didn't grab me.
     
  18. Dantheman

    Dantheman Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    I dunno about anyone else, but I found that recent Ken Burns documentary on Prohibition to be interesting and worthwhile. But then again, I'm the kind of guy who watches History Channel stuff not dealing with pawn shops and ice road trucking....
     
  19. chardman

    chardman Vice Admiral Admiral

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    This. With these newer networks absorbing unaffiliated stations, there simply aren't enough independent stations left to make first-run syndication practical or profitable. Most of the local stations that used to buy such shows to fill their schedule now are provided with network fare to fill the time, and at a fraction of the cost.
     
  20. Nerys Myk

    Nerys Myk Neil The Hippy Premium Member

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    So, the commercials?