ViacomCBS’ cable networks snares “Young Sheldon” syndication rights

Starts November 30 on Nick at Nite; rights are non-exclusive

Signaling the sign of the times in the television business, ViacomCBS’ cable networks acquired the linear syndication rights to Young Sheldon from Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution for an unknown sum, announced in August.

But to show you how far recent off-network sitcoms have fallen in the marketplace, the news was announced again – this time in tandem with a renewal by Nick At Nite for Friends, a comedy that’s been in syndication since 1998 and on cable since 2001, where TBS began airing it and still does to this day, mainly in daytime slots.  

Starting Monday November 30, Sheldon appears in primetime on ViacomCBS’ Nick at Nite. Even though it’ll appear mainly on the channel, ViacomCBS also has the rights to air Sheldon on one of their numerous cable networks including Paramount Network, Comedy Central, and TV Land, among others. Earlier, streaming rights to Sheldon were sold to HBO Max, a sister company to Warner Bros. under the AT&T umbrella. 65 episodes from the first three seasons are being made available at launch along with the rights to strip any future seasons.

This sale is in vast contrast to the show it spun off of. Warner Bros. sold off-network rights to The Big Bang Theory in 2010 to broadcast syndication and TBS, accumulating nearly $4 million an episode, starting in September 2011. Big Bang has been television’s most watched off-network sitcom ever since. 

Sheldon premiered on September 25, 2017 as a single-camera sitcom spinning off of a multi-camera one – a first – with Iain Armitage in the role of Sheldon Cooper growing up in Texas in the early 1990s. The series has received mixed reviews, as the lead has a tendency to get on the nerves of those around him – including the hapless home viewer. But enough of them helped Sheldon ranks as the most-watched sitcom on television and in the 18-49 demo. 

Warner Bros. has yet to sell Sheldon to local stations as any deal would have to wait until 2022 at the earliest when there are enough episodes for them to strip (projected to be 109.) But a sale could be difficult as station groups have bailed out of the sitcom business over the years due to a lack of exclusivity and a desire to air more first-run programming and local news. For instance, Nexstar (owner of WGN-TV in Chicago) is focused on NewsNation while Fox is busy adding more local news. In the past, Fox and the former Tribune and Chris-Craft groups were big purchasers of off-network sitcoms.

On the other hand, Sheldon would be a good fit with other single-camera family sitcoms currently airing in off-network syndication such as The Goldbergs, black-ish, and Modern Family as local stations without news operations are looking to refresh their lineups, consisting of moldy oldies such as The King of Queens and Mike & Molly. If anything, Sheldon will likely be sold on a barter basis, meaning stations won’t pay for the show but have to give up half of their advertising time to Warner Bros. to sell to national advertisers, similar to what they did with Family Matters in the first two years of its off-network run and what Columbia/Sony did with Designing Women – another show Sheldon castmate Annie Potts was on. 

Sheldon recently returned for a fourth season November 5 as the little genius graduated from high school and now heads to college, and the hapless home viewer gets to come for the ride. Yes, not even something like a global pandemic can stop Sheldon


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