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First-Run Syndication

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 The rule was repealed in 1996, but the affiliates have resisted in giving any time slots back.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

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    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
  • While Religious Edutainment has already been mentioned, special mention goes to The 700 Club, which airs concurrently in FRS, and on what is now Freeform as a separate broadcast.note  It can also be seen on other religious TV networks, including TBN.
    • This also applies to its half-hour spinoff series 700 Club Interactive.
    • Three other CBN productions: Superbook, Flying House, and Gerbert (a live-action series with a puppet main character)note  were also seen concurrently in FRS and on CBN Cable.
  • 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.
  • Aladdin: The Series: After a sneak preview on Disney Channel, ran concurrently on FRS (as part of The Disney Afternoon) and CBS.
  • 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. Considered an uber-example of this category as it ran for a decade, spawned a spin-off, and was for a time officially the most popular TV series in the world, all while in syndication.
  • 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 (mostly on Fox stations), until the Family Double Dare era.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Dragon Ball: FUNimation and BLT’s initial English dub from 1995 aired in syndication.
    • Dragon Ball Z: The original Creator//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, distributor Saban eventually backed out of the syndication business , leading to FUNimation to make a deal with Cartoon Network to air the show there, which turned out to be a huge success, and this was enough to warrant a continuation of the English dub exclusively for Toonami.
  • 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.
  • Flash Gordon (1954) was both broadcast on the Dumont Network and syndicated to non-Dumont stations.
  • The original incarnation of The Gong Show ran concurrently on NBC and FRS. Although the daytime NBC version ended in 1978, the nighttime version aired in FRS for two more years.
  • Gargoyles: Aired for two seasons in FRS as part of The Disney Afternoon before moving to ABC for its final season, subtitled The Goliath Chronicles.
  • 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.
  • Hercules: The Animated Series: Aired 52 episodes on what used to be The Disney Afternoon concurrently with 13 episodes running on ABC as part of Disney's One Saturday Morning
  • In the House: Aired on NBC for two seasons, aired on UPN for two more seasons, before having a six-epsode final 5th season run on FRS.
  • It's a Living: Aired on ABC for two seasons, then three years later, moved to FRS for four more years.
  • 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
  • Lassie: Aired on CBS from 1954–71, then in FRS through 1973.
  • 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.
  • Maude: In Canada, the show moved to syndication after the first few seasons aired on CBC. In Ontario, the series was seen on the Global network (then an Ontario-only network).
  • Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series: Concurrent runs on FRS (as a part of what was once The Disney Afternoon) and ABC
  • Motor Week: The automotive TV show ran concurrently on both PBS and on commerical TV stations through FRS from 1993 to 1998.
  • Mister Ed: One of the few network shows to start out in FRS before being picked up by CBS for its second season on.
  • Neighbours: First aired in the USA in syndication for a brief time from June-September 1991, before it moved to Oxygen years later.
  • 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 (A spinoff of ABC's One Saturday Morning block; was unnamed for its final seasonnote ) aired on UPN in most markets on Sunday mornings and weekday afternoons (or mornings in some areas), however in some areas it aired in first-run syndication. Most areas that broadcast it on weekday mornings were WB affiliates, as Kids WB would be airing in the afternoon instead.
  • The first season of Peep and the Big Wide World ran in syndication via American Public Television on public TV stations at the same time Ready, Set, Learn! ran the second one. Said season would not air on free to air television until the 24/7 PBS Kids channel picked up the show.
  • Pokémon: The Series: The 4Kids Entertainment dub originally debuted in syndication, before moving to Kids' WB! (and later Cartoon Network and Disney XD). The series now airs on Netflix.
  • The Price Is Right ran concurrently on CBS and FRS from 1972 to 1980. The CBS show is still going; FRS shows ran as well from 1985 to 1986 and 1994 to 1995.
  • 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 syndication before finding fame through Toonami.
  • Sale of the Century: Jim Perry had two concurrent runs, on NBC and FRS.
  • SCTV: In Canada, it aired its first two seasons on Global Television Network and the remainder on CBC. In the US, it 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: The Radical Squadron: Ran in FRS from 1993 to 1995 as part of The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera; also seen on TBS Sunday mornings.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987): Debuted in FRS in 1987, also ran on CBS starting in 1990, although 13 of the episodes from this season premiered in FRS.
  • 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 (only for CBS to cancel the show after only 2 months).
  • Timon & Pumbaa: Aired Fridays in FRS as part of The Disney Afternoon concurrently with a Saturday morning run on CBS for two seasons, followed by a third season produced for international markets that premiered on Toon Disney in 1999.
  • 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.
  • VeggieTales on TV: In an odd case of this trope, 26 episodes were made to be broadcasted on qubo and NBC. However, NBC only broadcasted the first 20, with said 20th episode only airing once during it's entire run on qubo and NBC. The final six episodes showed up in syndication seven years after NBC and qubo dropped the show.
  • Webster: Was cancelled by ABC, its last two seasons being FRS.
  • What's My Line?: Originally aired Sunday nights on CBS from 1950 to 1967. The second version aired weeknights in FRS from 1968-1975.
  • 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 WWF/WWE'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 
  • The All-New Let's Make a Deal
  • 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 fledgling Fox in 1988note . Two years later, a new version premiered on Nickelodeon, replacing the previous "teams of two" format for the remainder of its run.
  • 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.
  • Eight years after the previously mentioned original Gong Show ended its run in 1980, it was revived in 1988 for an exclusive FRS run that lasted one season.note 
  • The Munsters Today!
  • The New Adventures of Jonny Quest
  • The New Gidget
  • The New Lassie
  • The New Monkees
  • The New Newlywed Game
  • Ozzie's Girls, a continuation of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
  • 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!!!