Broadcast syndication

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Broadcast syndication, in the television broadcasting industry, is the method of selling TV programs to individual stations without going through a network.[1] Broadcast syndication is most common in the United States and, to a lesser extent, in Canada, which have independently owned stations that are either network affiliates or operate as independent stations. It is not as common in Europe and the rest of the world, most of which have centralized networks that do not have independently owned affiliates. Shows airing in syndication may air on an NBC affiliate in one market, or a FOX affiliate in another market, or on an independent station in another market, and may be broadcast either daily on weekdays (and in some cases, on weekends as well), which is the case for game shows, newsmagazines, courtroom and talk shows and reruns of sitcoms and dramas, or weekly (most often on weekends only) for some newsmagazines, political discussion shows, theatrical film packages, professional wrestling shows, hour-long dramas whose syndicators choose to air them only on weekends and off-network sitcoms and dramas that did not produce enough episodes in their original network runs to warrant daily airings. Broadcast syndication exists in two forms:

  • First-run syndication, where programs run on individual stations in their first runs instead of on a network. Current notable first-run syndicated programs include game shows like Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy! and Family Feud, entertainment news programs like Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood and Extra, courtroom shows like Judge Judy, Hot Bench and The People's Court and talk shows like The Doctors, Live with Kelly and Ryan and Dr. Phil. First-run sitcoms, dramas, animated cartoons and professional wrestling shows were also very popular in syndication in the past but are not as common today due to the proliferation of reality, talk and courtroom shows that currently air and, in the case of cartoons, the rise of cable TV channels specializing in cartoons (such as Cartoon Network) and bureaucratic regulation placing emphasis on the mandatory broadcasting of educational children's shows, a minimum of three hours per week of which must be aired on full-service broadcast stations as demanded by the Federal Communications Commission.
  • Off-network syndication, where programs that originally aired on a network are offered for sale to individual stations by a program syndicator (such as CBS Media Ventures, NBCUniversal Syndication Studios and Warner Bros. Television) that owns the distribution rights to those shows when a particular program has accumulated enough older episodes (usually about four seasons' worth or between 80 and 100 episodes on average) to begin rerunning in syndication. Off-network reruns can be offered by syndicators for cash (where each station buys the rights to place their own advertisements during commercial breaks), barter (where the syndicator offers the program in exchange for airtime to place its own ads) or a combination of the two. Some current or recently ended network shows whose early episodes now air in off-network reruns include The Big Bang Theory, Young Sheldon, The Simpsons, Family Guy and Law and Order: SVU. Many popular classic shows such as I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Brady Bunch, Get Smart, Leave It to Beaver, Star Trek: The Original Series and Cheers also continue to air in off-network reruns, often on classic TV networks like MeTV but also on individual stations.

Regarding the use of packages of off-network reruns of sitcoms and dramas in syndication by the program distributors which own the rights to those shows, many of such packages are generally complete and have all of their episodes aired, but some series packages may have episodes that are not included for broadcast for various reasons:

  • Early TV shows were live broadcasts which were not recorded for posterity; such a practice did not become commonplace until the 1950s, beginning with the use of kinescopes and then made popular by the decision of Desi Arnaz to film and preserve the episodes of his and his then-wife Lucille Ball's series I Love Lucy to sell as off-network reruns to local stations after their initial airings on CBS.
  • Some episodes may be lost due to the original master film or videotape elements experiencing the following fates:
  • Disappearence (including through theft, as happened to the master film elements of syndicated animated series Colonel Bleep, which disappeared in the early 1970s when, while the masters and other material belonging to show producer Soundac Studios was being moved into a van for relocation, the van containing the masters was stolen by car thieves and the Soundac material was never recovered);
  • Being misplaced;
  • Being disposed of (as was the fate of a majority of the kinescope archive of the DuMont Television Network, which had been disposed of by a successor owner into the East River in New York City in the early 1970s, and as happened to early black-and-white TV series whose film elements were disposed of to recover the film reels' silver content via a silver reclaiming process);
  • Being recorded over (in the case of videotapes, for reuse of the tapes and because of the then-held belief that some types of programs, such as game shows, would not have continued commercial value); or
  • Deterioration due to improper storage and handling or age.
  • Some episodes, despite still existing, may be withheld from syndication due to controversial content (such as "Bored, She Hung Herself", a second-season episode of the original Hawaii Five-O series, which only aired once on CBS and was pulled from further airings, as well as being excluded from home media, downloading and streaming release by distributor CBS Media Ventures after a viewer of the episode died as a result of imitating a dangerous yoga technique involving asphyxiation that had been featured in the episode).
  • Some series packages that were initially produced in black-and-white before transitioning to color production may air only the color episodes while withholding the black-and-white episodes due to distributor perception that the black-and-white episodes may not be as popular as the color episodes (conversely, in the case of The Andy Griffith Show, only the black-and-white episodes from the show's first five seasons are currently aired in off-network reruns due to a perceived lack of popularity of the later color episodes).
  • Some series, due to having a large number of episodes produced and surviving intact, may have only a selected number of episodes included by their distributors in their broadcast syndication packages in a manageable number (such as 130 episodes, to allow for one episode per day in a Monday-to-Friday strip run over 26 weeks); this was a common practice for years in syndication (most notably with Western series Bonanza, of which only 260 out of its 431 produced episodes were initially rerun in off-network broadcast syndication before the other 171 episodes were later released to cable networks under a separate syndication package with the subtitle The Lost Episodes). With the advent of classic TV networks like MeTV and the resulting demand for some series' selected episodes not seen on broadcast TV since their original airings (including Bonanza, My Three Sons and 77 Sunset Strip), more series have begun airing their complete runs on broadcast TV for the first time in decades.


  1. Syndication at the Museum of Broadcast Communications