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‘Last Man Standing’s Syndication Success Shows Viability Of Star-Driven Sitcoms

Deadline logo Deadline 12/22/2016 Nellie Andreeva
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ABC’s Friday comedyLast Man Standing was not a hot off-network commodity when it was first taken out to syndication buyers at NATPE 2014. Distributor Twentieth Television originally tried bundling the multi-camera sitcom starring Tim Allen with the studio’s higher-profile fall 2011 comedy series, the single-camera comedy New Girl, toplined by Zooey Deschanel. That plan was later abandoned, with New Girl selling to TBS in addition to a rich streaming deal with Netflix. Last Man Standing eventually sold to Hallmark and Tribune stations.

Fall 2011 produced three broadcast comedy series to reach syndication, a rarity for the genre which had been going through a downturn. The hottest prospect, CBS/Warner Bros. TV’s 2 Broke Girls, ignited a bidding frenzy when it was shopped at the end of its first season, selling to TBS for a record price, and to the CBS Stations in a premium deal.

While New Girl eschewed broadcast syndication for a SVOD/cable package and 2 Broke Girls debuted on local stations in fall 2015 as is the standard practice, Last Man Standing was held back for stronger time slots, bowing this fall as the only new off-network comedy in the marketplace. The strategy worked, with the Allen starrer exceeding expectations as its ratings have been growing steadily, hitting a series of highs.

For the most recent week with available data, the week of Dec. 5, Last Man Standing set a new high mark in households, a 2.0 rating, up +5% from the previous week; total viewers (3.06 million, up +11%), and women 25-54 (1.2, up +9%) while also matching its all-time highs among adults 18-49 (0.8, up +14%) and adults 25-54 (1.1, up +10%). That is a whopping +43% household rating growth since Last Man Standing‘s September launch (2.0 vs. 1.4), and there are indications that numbers may continue to climb. While some shows are known to experience growth in their first months in syndication as new viewers discover them, such a steep upward trajectory is rare.

For the week of Dec.5, Last Man Standing was the No.4 among all 19 comedies airing in broadcast syndication, only behind blockbuster The Big Bang Theory (5.6), Modern Family (2.9) and stalwart Two and a Half Men (2.6) and ahead of Family Guy (1.9), Mike & Molly (1.9) and 2 Broke Girls (1.8), now in Year 2. It is the highest-rated new syndicated series — off-network (comedy, drama, reality) or first run — by a wide margin.

It is hard to pinpoint one reason behind Last Man Standing‘s unexpected strong syndication run. The delayed launch resulted in less crowded marketplace, better time slots and more original episodes available, so the stations don’t have to air as many repeats. Additionally, because of the blue-collar sitcom’s low-profile original run on ABC on the lower-trafficked Friday night, it may have not been as exposed as some other sitcoms so more viewers get to see the episodes for the first time. Also, with a central character who is a political conservative and devout Christian adhering to traditional American values, the show appeals to viewers in the Heartland, a constituency that helped elect Donald Trump as president and has been energized post-election as evidenced by the ratings success of new USA drama Shooter. 

And then, there is Allen’s star power. Star-driven sitcoms have always been a major draw for stations looking for off-network product, with long-time powerhouse Two and a Half Men, toplined by Charlie Sheen, as a prime example. Allen already had one big syndicated sitcom hit on his resume, Home Improvement, so Last Man Standing marked the return of a proven sitcom star.

That could bode well for Sony TV/CBS Studios’ freshman sitcom Kevin Can Wait, toplined by another established sitcom leading man, Kevin James, whose previous multi-camera comedy, The King of Queens, is still in the Top 15 of syndicated comedies on the air. If his new CBS sitcom manages to avoid cancellation and stays on, something Last Man Standing was able to do after multiple touch-and-go renewal negotiations between ABC and 20th TV, Kevin Can Wait could be a solid player in broadcast syndication despite so-so ratings on the original network. While not sexy, multi-camera sitcoms fronted by well-known stars could be good business.

And a syndication run could boost the show’s original run. Last Friday, Last Man Standing hit new season highs on ABC in total viewers (6.773 million) and adults 18-49 (1.20 rating).

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