There’s some (forgotten) gold in those hills: Hulu, Antenna TV acquire “new” sitcom classics

A 1994 photo of the “Full House” cast.

Late ’80’s, ’90s sitcoms making comeback on Hulu, Antenna TV

At a time when multi-cam sitcoms are fading away faster than the pavement on the Dan Ryan Expressway, the genre seems to be making a comeback – on Hulu and Antenna TV, at least.

Last week, Hulu announced it struck a deal with Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution to acquire five sitcoms that made up the nucleus of ABC’s popular TGIF block: Full House, Family Matters, Perfect Strangers, Step By Step, and Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper. All five multi-cam series launch on the subscription video-on-demand service Sept. 29.

The news was announced during Hulu’s portion of Television Critics Association press tour.

While one would never confuse ABC’s TGIF with NBC’s Must-See TV on Thursdays (just ask any TV critic), the programming block drew in a family-friendly audience during the late 1980’s and 1990s. The block was so popular, CBS tried to duplicate it by stealing Family Matters and Step By Step away from ABC in 1997 in a $40 million deal for their own Friday night programming block, lasting only a few months. Both were canceled in 1998.

Several weeks ago, Tribune Media-owned diginet Antenna TV made a retro sitcom pickup of their own, also snaring a deal with Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures Television for sitcoms Benson, Silver SpoonsSoap, Alice, Growing Pains, Murphy Brown, The Hogan Family, Head of The Class.

Antenna TV also acquired Welcome Back Kotter, a sitcom airing from 1975 to 1979.

The retro-movement sitcom comes as more and more platforms become available to air these classic shows – some of these not airing in years. The syndication track record for these of these shows are mixed – while sitcoms such as Full House, Kotter, and Family Matters had successful runs in both broadcast syndication and cable, others such as Perfect Strangers, Murphy Brown, Soap, and Head Of The Class faded away quickly in the off-network afterlife.

As for one of those off-net successes, Matters was sold in syndication on an all-barter basis in 1993 on a two-year contract, becoming only the second sitcom to do so, after Designing Women. Due to its success, the series was sold for a all-cash second syndication cycle in 1995 and a third cycle in 2001. The series’ off-network run also aired on Canada’s CBC.

While local stations and Netflix are cutting more and more off-network programming out of their lineups, Hulu and diginets such as Antenna TV are picking up the slack. Recently, Hulu made numerous acquisitions, including a huge number of catalog series from 20th Century Fox including Mary Tyler Moore, M*A*S*H, and Bob Newhart , and numerous animated series such as Bob’s Burgers and Futurama. Earlier, Hulu struck a deal to stream Golden Girls and Seinfeld reruns.

The one oddity out of this deal is the sequel series to Full HouseFuller House, airs on Netflix.

Antenna TV meanwhile, is also acquiring sitcom product despite Tribune Media’s pending sale to Sinclair Broadcasting. Antenna already airs a bunch of sitcoms from the’ 80s and ’90s, including Doogie Howser M.D., Newhart, My Two Dads, Mr. Belvedere, and the live-action version of Sabrina The Teenage Witch. Many of these titles however, did not have success in off-network the first time around and some already air in the graveyard shift on the diginet.

But the good news is, the newer acquisitions are coming so they can also be buried in overnight time slots, because if they didn’t watch them the first time round in reruns…what makes anyone think they would watch them now? While I can see the nostalgia factor for Full House and Family Matters, yours truly doesn’t see it for Murphy Brown or The Hogan Family.

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