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What are Syndication Shows?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Syndication shows are television shows which are broadcast by individual local stations, each of which must negotiate the syndication rights on its own. This is in contrast with network shows, which are produced by a television network and distributed to the network's local affiliates for exclusive broadcast. There are a number of different types of syndication shows, with sitcoms, educational programming, and tabloid-style shows being very popular, and there are a couple of syndication formats.

When content is syndicated, the company which owns the rights to the content negotiates with people who wish to air it. For example, a producer for a television show might agree to assign the rights to a local affiliate in exchange for cash payments, airtime for advertisements, or air time for other shows. Syndication is designed to distribute shows across a wide area, with producers targeting local stations with the goal of covering lots of ground, ensuring that the show is seen by as many viewers as possible.

Syndication shows can generate a lot of profit for a producer, by keeping the content on air and bringing in money. They are also useful for local stations, because many network companies do not provide enough content to fill a full day of programming. Syndication shows can be used to fill the gaps, providing something for potential viewers to tune in to.

In first-run syndication, a show is developed specifically for syndication, and broadcast as a syndication show from the beginning. First-run syndication is also common with foreign television shows. In one nation, for example, stations vie for the rebroadcasting rights of shows from another country, broadcasting them in syndication on multiple networks. Syndication allows the content to reach a larger audience, and generates a tidy profit for the foreign production company.

Off-network syndication shows are re-runs of shows which originally were aired on network television. Some classic television shows have been running continuously for decades, thanks to off-network syndication, and stations may also pick up more recent shows for off-network syndication, hoping to attract viewers by offering popular shows.

In public broadcasting syndication, producers develop content specifically designed for public broadcasting companies. The content is often educational in nature, with programming which adheres to the mission of public broadcasting stations. These shows are rarely syndicated outside the public broadcasting system, because they are viewed as special interest programming.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseTour researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon316633 — On Jan 29, 2013

"Saved By The Bell" is on MTV2 and it's a very good show. It was first-run syndicated on NBC before I was born in 1993. It was in first-run syndication in 1989-1993 so now the show's on MTV2 but is also available on DVD.

By Perdido — On Jun 25, 2011

@lighth0se33 - Medium was a great show. After CBS got it, it ran for awhile, but they canceled it entirely. The final episode aired on January 21, 2011.

However, you can still catch the reruns. Medium still runs in syndication on Lifetime.

By lighth0se33 — On Jun 24, 2011

@Oceana - I loved that show too! It made me sad to see it go.

Another show I hated saying goodbye to was "Medium," a show that featured Patricia Arquette as a dreaming psychic. The show had success for many years, and Arquette won a Lead Actress Emmy Award during its first season.

For some reason, NBC canceled it in 2009. It didn't die then, however. It moved to CBS. However, I think that much like "Miss Match," "Medium" probably fell victim to poor scheduling. Both CBS and NBC moved the show around a lot. I think overall, it changed airtimes and dates three times.

By sunnySkys — On Jun 23, 2011

@SZapper - I love that show also! I didn't know it was one of the first syndicated TV shows though. Very interesting!

Whenever I think syndication I always think of the shows that come on NBC and ABC before primetime. I remember watching re-runs of Friends at 6 almost every night when I was in high school.

I don't really watch too much TV anymore these days. Most shows I like I just watch them streaming online when I have time so I have no idea what shows are on syndication these days.

By Oceana — On Jun 22, 2011

One of my favorite syndication shows was Miss Match with Alicia Silverstone back in 2003. She played a divorce attorney who inadvertently became a matchmaker to heal the hurts of her clients.

Sadly, the show got canceled after only 11 episodes. I don't understand why, because it had qualities that should have appealed to many viewers. The only reason I can fathom is because it was broadcast at 7 p.m. on Friday nights, when many people go out. That would be the only cause feasible for why this show did not generate enough money to stay in syndication.

By SZapper — On Jun 22, 2011

I remember reading somewhere that I Love Lucy was one of the first syndicated TV shows. And it's still one of the top syndicated TV shows of all time! I can see why- I've always found I Love Lucy to be totally hilarious.

Apparently when I Love Lucy first start Desi Arnaz negotiated to keep the rights to the show. Because syndication wasn't around yet the studio said yes with no reservations. So Lucy and Desi ended up making a lot of money off of I Love Lucy re-runs. I think it was a very smart move on their part!

By Kat919 — On Jun 22, 2011

@anon168244 - I'm afraid I don't know. I'd never heard of first-run syndication before. I wonder if I've evern seen any first-run syndicated TV shows; I can't think of an example.

I heard that it was the (apparently lousy) third season of the original Star Trek series that saved the franchise. It was almost canceled after the second season, but the third season was what gave it enough episodes for syndication. Without syndication, everyone would probably have forgotten it within a few years and there might not have been all those movies and other series. (You can tell I'm a big fan! More of a TNG kind of girl, though.)

By anon167244 — On Apr 11, 2011

how much is paid when cash is paid on a first run show? i am only asking for an idea?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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