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 The rule was repealed in 1996, but the affiliates have resisted in giving any time slots back.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

     After Shows that were FRS