First-Run Syndication

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'. The rule was repealed in 1996, but the affiliates have resisted in giving any time slots back.

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 (e.g., Judge Judy), talk (e.g., The Queen Latifah Show), game (e.g., Family Feud), and news shows (e.g., Entertainment Tonight).

First-run syndication was also the preferred method of distribution for the Merchandise-Driven cartoons of The '80s.

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 
  • Adventures of the Gummi Bears: Ran on NBC 1985-89, Channel Hopped to ABC 1989-90, final season ran as part of The Disney Afternoon in 1990.
  • American Bandstand: Began on local Philadelphia station WFIL in 1952, moved to ABC in 1957, went FRS in 1987, ended its run on USA Network in 1989.
  • Andromeda: Began in FRS, picked up by Sci Fi Channel midway through 4th season
  • Baywatch: Cancelled by NBC after one season, successfully entered FRS a year later
  • Beakman's World: Aired on TLC and in FRS in its first season, then on TLC and CBS
  • 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
  • Darkwing Duck: After a sneak preview on Disney Channel, ran concurrently on FRS and ABC
  • Dennis the Menace: Animated Adaptation of the US comic strip created by Hank Ketcham. First season ran in FRS, second season moved to CBS on Saturday mornings.
  • Dragon Ball: FUNimation and The Ocean Group's initial English dub from 1995 aired in syndication.
  • Dragon Ball Z: The original Saban Entertainment/FUNimation/Ocean co-production was also created for syndication. Considering the early time slots it got in many markets, the show did quite well (good enough to warrant a full hour-long block during season 2). Despite this, Saban eventually backed out of the project, forcing FUNimation to abandon the dub. Reruns on the Cartoon Network block Toonami turned out to be a huge success, and this was enough to warrant a continuation of the English dub.
  • Fame: Cancelled by NBC after two seasons, moved to FRS for the rest of its run
  • Goof Troop: Same as Darkwing Duck
  • Jeopardy!: Began on NBC in 1964, ran concurrently on NBC and FRS in 1974-75 before ending, back to NBC for a season in 1978-79, current FRS evening run began in 1984
  • Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures: Ran concurrently on TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network and FRS in some cities
  • Mama's 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.
  • The Mighty Ducks: Concurrent runs on FRS and ABC
  • Mr. Ed: One of the few shows to start out in FRS before being picked up by CBS for its second season on.
  • The Real Ghostbusters: Debuted on ABC in 1986, began a concurrent run on FRS with new episodes in 1987
  • Pokémon: The 4Kids dub originally debuted in syndication, before moving to Kids' WB! (and later Cartoon Network).
  • Sailor Moon: Very similar scenario to Dragon Ball Z, since the English dub (by DiC) was originally created for syndication, before finding fame through Toonami. Although unlike Dragon Ball Z, the show didn't do very well in syndication, due to the terrible time slots it was given in most markets.
  • 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.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987): Debuted in FRS in 1987, also ran on CBS starting in 1990.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): Ran for two seasons on CBS, then moved to FRS so there would be enough episodes to rerun the show as a daily strip.
  • 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