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The Sitcom Explained Part VI: Should We Hold Up Our Noses to Repeats?


Written by Bridger Cunningham


Dear CBS:


Recycling is for bottles, cans, plastic and paper.  Not for the first two episodes of the Big Bang this season, which you have already shown us seven times each.


Don't viewers wish they could fire such direct words at Les Moonves and others who insist on running the first two episodes of Big Bang's Season 10 and Season 9 Finale at nausea.  Viewers hate reruns, and that factor doubles over raising the volume on commercials increasing every season.  How many of us have opted out of December and January viewing as we know the big four will be recycling materials we've already viewed?  Why would someone in the desired demo sit through a retread when they know how to navigate Netflix?  Just like a liver or dumpster, reruns and advertisements serve a function on TV, albeit a nuisance to fans who crave new material.  Reruns bridge the lengthy season's production schedules, and advertisements bring in revenue to keep our channels alive.  Sitcom reruns retain 50-70 percent of their original viewings vs. dramas averaging 20-40 percent retention from originals.  

The Big Bang Theory is scattered everywhere like dog droppings in a park, thanks to extensive reruns.  Numbers justify this strategy, as the aged show averages 1.4-1.8 for their thrift showings.  Those numbers surpass several original shows.  At ABC, their sitcom reruns average 0.8-1.2, matching or besting its weaklings The Real O'Neal's and Dr. Ken.  Fox reliably schedules Simpsons and Family Guy reruns on its weakened Sundays, often matching or surpassing performances for shows not named as such.  And NBC's Rebirth of Sitcoms leave the bar low, allowing for reruns of Superstore and The Good Place to retain 70-85 percent of their original figures.  The problem is not with the rerun itself.  Rather, it is how the networks utilize them.  Treated as waste and filth, they are strewn across undesirable timeslots.  If executives yearn to keep viewers watching live, why not take new approaches to cultivating second-hand uses?

If viewers must sit through annoying pauses between original episodes, perhaps the networks should evaluate several options to not only distribute shows year-round, but enrich what they have.  Here are some potential scenarios to evaluate:

1. Keeping Repeats In Sequence.

The 9th season finale of Big Bang was well-written and involved a clever twist featuring Leonard's father and Sheldon's mother potentially becoming an item last May.  September returned with the conclusion.  Both well-written episodes, yet they have diminished as they have already aired too many times to count.  Since the season opener, episodes have performed to the same bar, yet do not receive the same repeat plays.  Network executives have leaned in this direction with newer fares, as shows like American Housewife are airing first aired, first served.  Watching Katy Mixon pick up trash too many times would diminish the show's value, while watching her take on the PTA again was tantalizing.  Just like perishable food in a restaurant, sitcoms should be served as specials "First in, First Out."

2. Schedule a Block of Back To Back Shows

Netflix and sitcom reruns cater to the binge watchers.  Networks have displayed these back-to-back blocks during the summer with decent results, so why not give it a whirl in December and January.  Harried viewers may enjoy the same trend with one of their existing shows, or hook new viewers.

3. Know The Rerun Ratings Trend and Place Shows Wisely

Evenings featuring reruns start at a peak with an inevitable erosion.  The Goldbergs has outperformed its superior, Modern Family, on several rerun induced evenings.  After figuring out which shows have best retention during second use, place then at 8:30 or 9pm.  This will create a peak effect vs. downward slope.  

4. Consider First-Hand Syndication Before Shows Are Outsourced.

Fridays, Saturdays and now Sundays are viewed as undesirable real estate for ratings.  However, they may cultivate an alternative culture if a designated stable is created.  blackish and Fresh Off The Boat are now in their third seasons and will have 53 and 72 episodes at the close of the season, respectfully.  Perhaps Saturdays from 8-10pm may create an ideal space to show back-to-back episodes before the shows break out of the ABC stable for first-run syndication.  Such tactics may help build existing fan bases and improve the show's original ratings.  Megahits Cheers, Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory began with modest fan bases and grew with time.  The same may occur with current sleepers, so creating a "syndicated preview" on a designated evening will help new viewers invest in existing funny-pots.

5. Try Out The Weaker Shows On New Evenings

Dr. Ken's performance is dismal on ABC.  Yet the network has yet to try it elsewhere to see if a new niche develops.  Perhaps reruns on Tuesdays or Wednesdays may match their existing performance or prove more valuable than that existing schedule space's regular occupant.  CBS makes no reservations moving its laugh machines around the schedule, and ABC and FOX could follow suit.  The same principle could be used for moving stronger fares into undesirable spaces in repeats.  Animation Domination has diminished, leaving an opening for established Simpsons to try out Tuesdays in reruns. Goldbergs reruns may break the rules and improve Fridays, even for a 4-week second-hand use. 

6. Weave In Product Placement To Allow For Associated Commercials to Enrich Reruns

Writers hate product placement stifling their creative thunder, yet must recognize it is an excellent exercise and would inspire advertisers to create new ads to display.  Imagine the recent episode of American Housewife featuring the 'escape the room' bit which paid a mild tribute to household cleanser 'Comet'.  DVR users would have taken a pause for a Comet commercial featuring Katy Mixon in character as Katie Otto, scrubbing her tub and quipping "Comet gets out stubborn stains on your household fixtures.  Too bad it cannot remove the deep set stains your family's complaining leaves on your ears!" as she uses the cleanser to chase her children out of the bathroom.  Come the next time the episode airs, entice the advertiser to film another clip featuring Katy Mixon cleaning the kitchen sink.  If ABC so boldly airs that episode a third time, air a third original commercial!  This exercise will turn commercials into a scavenger hunt and get people talking again.

The black and white fact remains we need to show the networks we care about their shows and are willing to watch their commercials if they catch our eye.  New trends can emerge if marked right, especially with second-hand uses.  NBC's catchy "If you haven't seen it, then it's new to you" was a successful example of innovative marketing for a less-desired use.  People claim the ratings system is outdated, but sports contest this, as Sunday Games would be scoring 1.4 demos if they were inaccurate.  Repeats have their own marketing culture too, and we should eagerly await to see how our networks get us to invest in these second-hand uses.  So quit pinching your noses to repeats and try to enjoy an occasional comfort-food rerun, and the networks will keep displaying in our new series to invest in!