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'. By the late 1980s, network news had by and large been moved to the 6:30 PM timeslot, freeing up the 7:00pm slot as an additional Prime Access slot. The rule was repealed in 1996, but the affiliates have resisted in giving any time slots back.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

    open/close all folders 

     Shows in First Run Syndication for their entire run 
(Note: This list is by no means exhaustive.)

    Shows in both first-run syndicated and network run 
  • 2 Stupid Dogs: Ran in FRS from 1993 to 1995; also seen on TBS Sunday mornings
  • 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.
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks (Beginning in 1985, it began to run concurrently on NBC and in FRS. After DIC Entertainment took over the show's production, it aired on NBC for the rest of its runnote )
  • American Bandstand: Began on local Philadelphia station WFIL (currently ABC O&O WPVI) 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
  • Bill Nye the Science Guy: Was syndicated at first, then moved to PBS for the rest of its 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 (lasting until 1978; another revival aired on NBC from 1987 to 1991 w/ reruns until 1993)
  • Darkwing Duck: After a sneak preview on Disney Channel, ran concurrently on FRS (as part of The Disney Afternoon) and ABC
  • Dennis the Menace: Animated Adaptation of the U.S. comic strip created by Hank Ketcham. First season ran in FRS, second season ran on CBS on Saturday mornings.
  • Double Dare (1986) eventually had a concurrent run on Nickelodeon and FRS, until the Family Double Dare era.
  • 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.
  • Finders Keepers aired on Nickelodeon for one 130 episode season, then channel hopped to FRS (mostly on Fox affiliates) for its final season.
  • Goof Troop: Same as Darkwing Duck
  • Hee Haw: Aired on CBS for two seasons, then moved to FRS for the rest of its 23-season run.
  • 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 (as a part of what was once The Disney Afternoon) 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.
  • 101 Dalmatians: The Series: Fifty-two episodes of the show debuted in syndication in 1997 on weekday afternoons (or mornings depending on the market), while ABC aired thirteen episodes of the show as part of One Saturday Morning beginning a week after the show began airing in syndication.
  • Disney's One Too (Aired concurrently with ABC's One Saturday Morning; was unnamed for its final season)
  • Pokémon: The 4Kids Entertainment dub originally debuted in syndication, before moving to Kids' WB! (and later Cartoon Network). The series now airs on Disney XD.
  • Punky Brewster: Initially aired on NBC; moved to FRS for its final season.
  • The Real Ghostbusters: Debuted on ABC in 1986, began a concurrent run on FRS with new episodes in 1987.
  • Sailor Moon: Very similar scenario to Dragon Ball Z, since the English dub (by DiC) was originally created for syndicationnote , 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, then moved to Cinemax.
  • Starcade: Aired on TBS in 1982-83, then moved to FRS from 1983-84 (being distributed by Turner Program Services, Turner's own syndication arm)
  • SWAT Kats: Ran in FRS from 1993 to 1995; also seen on TBS Sunday mornings.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987): Debuted in FRS in 1987, also ran on CBS starting in 1990.
  • 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.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures: The first episode "The Looney Beginning" aired as a special in primetime on CBS. Then the first and second seasons debuted in syndication until the third season where it moved to Fox as part of the Fox Kids block.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Win, Lose or Draw had a concurrent run on NBC and FRS, but with different hosts (Vicki Lawrence in the NBC version, and Bert Convy in the FRS version).
  • Some of the WW...er, "E"'s productions were broadcast in FRS until at least the 2000s. The rest of it aired concurrently on the USA Network.note 

     After Shows that were FRS 
  • Ding Dong School, which is perhaps the Ur-Example of the preschool seriesnote , originally aired locally on WNBQ in Chicago (now WMAQ) beginning in 1952, then moved to NBC six weeks later, airing until 1956. Three years later, it was revived for FRS, and ran until 1965 (according to The Other Wiki).
  • Family Double Dare (this version specifically) had a short run on the Fox Network in 1988note . Two years later, a new version premiered on Nickelodeon, replacing the previous format for the remainder of its run.
  • The All-New Let's Make a Deal
  • Like The Flintstones before it, The Jetsons originally aired on ABC in prime time in 1962. Twenty-three(!) years later, it was revived for FRS with new episodes.
  • The Kidsongs TV Show is a reverse example. Seven years after the original syndicated show premiered, it was revived for PBS as "The Kidsongs 'Television' Show"note .
  • The Munsters Today!
  • The New Newlywed Game
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • The New WKRP in Cincinnati
  • The Ted Knight Show: Popular revamp of Too Close for Comfort, already greenlit for another season at the time of Ted Knight's sudden death.
  • Whats Happening, Now!!!

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