Why Your Favorite Shows May Not Be In Syndication

If you love TV, you’ve probably heard the term “syndication” before. Simply put, syndicated shows are either “first run,” meaning they’re “free agents” that aren’t owned by any particular network — like Star Trek: Next Generation — or they’re “second-run,” meaning they used to belong to a network — like NBC and Seinfeld — but now they air elsewhere. Basically, they’re re-runs. Despite the increasing popularity of on-demand streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, syndicated, over-the-air TV is still extraordinarily popular with viewers, as well as being highly profitable for the studios. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz basically invented syndication when they made a deal with CBS in 1951 to produce I Love Lucy on higher-quality film so it could be shown as re-runs down the road. They sold 180 episodes of the show for $5 million ($59 million today). Seinfeld is the most successful syndicated show of all time, generating over $3.1 billion in syndication fees since NBC aired the last episode in 1998. So, why aren’t you seeing some of your favorite shows in syndication? Some shows lacked the rights to re-run, with owners resisting syndication, while episodes of others were misplaced by the networks after their initial broadcast. Then there’s profitability. Some networks can make more money on DVD deals, stock or intermittent airings on cable channels than they can through syndication. Shows that are the most profitable in syndication are those for which there are no new episodes, like Seinfeld, The Big Bang Theory, Everybody Loves Raymond, and King of Queens. These are the shows that normally have a morning and late night episode, racking up even more bucks.