First Run Syndication is a method of distributing radio and television programs outside of the major networks. If a television show isn't picked up by a network, producers attempt to sell the show directly to the affiliates and independent stations, in an attempt to get a high enough clearance across the country to make the show profitable enough to produce. While the practice is Older than Television
with radio shows being syndicated, the practice is most widely associated with television.
In the early days of television, First Run Syndicators profited by both a lack of satellites transmitting network programming and the lack of product available to networks during downtime hours. While many bigger market stations produced their own news and children's shows, many smaller markets eagerly bought up the more professionally produced syndicated product.
In the late 1960s and early '70s, networks controlled three and a half hours of prime time a night, typically 7:30 - 11:00pm. The FCC ruled that to promote local programming they needed to be forced to give up a half hour. Called Prime Time Access, this was intended to be a half hour between the news and network entertainment, filled with local info and public affair programming created by the local stations. Instead the local stations just purchased bigger quantities of first run syndicated versions of game shows
and other programming. While some of these shows were highly praised (The Muppet Show
and Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom
for example), most critics of the day bemoaned them as increasing 'The Vast Wasteland'.
In 1987, the success of Star Trek: The Next Generation
prompted a new era in syndicated after shows
being created. Shows such as WKRP in Cincinnati
and What's Happening!!
were revived, as well as new originals such as Tales from the Darkside
, Friday the 13th: The Series
and War of the Worlds
, premiered to varying degrees of success.
Today, with the event of cable television and internet providers creating their own content, the practice is virtually no longer needed, except for a handful of reality shows (e.g., Judge Judy
) and news shows (e.g., Entertainment Tonight
''Examples of First Run Syndicated shows
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Shows in First Run Syndication for their entire run
Shows in both first-run syndicated and network run
- Break The Bank 1976: Cancelled by ABC after one season; later FRS
- Charles In Charge: The series was cancelled by CBS after one season, revived in FRS a few seasons afterward.
- Concentration: Cancelled by NBC in March 1973; became FRS a few months later
- Mamas Family: This Spin-Off of The Carol Burnett Show spent a year and a half on NBC before going on to very successful FRS run.
- Mr. Ed: One of the few shows to start out in FRS before being picked up by CBS for its second season on.
- Sale Of The Century: Jim Perry had two concurrent runs, on NBC and FRS.
- SCTV: Was FRS for its first three seasons before being aired on NBC as SCTV Network90.
- Tic-Tac-Dough: Ran briefly on CBS before becoming FRS; according to Wink Martindale, the show was to have been on CBS and FRS at the same time.
- Too Close for Comfort: Cancelled by ABC after four seasons; a few seasons were FRS, before the show was totally revamped into the fully FRS After Show The Ted Knight Show.
- Webster: Was cancelled by ABC, its last two seasons being FRS
- Wheel of Fortune: Daytime and syndicated runs were concurrent in the 1980s and 1990s
After Shows that were FRS