I don’t keep my love for sitcoms a secret. I start each work day with a cup of coffee that’s in a “Friends”-themed mug, insist people binge classics such as “Bewitched” and even manage a blog that examines the cultural impact of sitcoms and how they explore complicated real-world issues.
And as we remain in this era of “peak TV,” laden with prestige dramas, clever comedies and more content than even the most TV-savvy among us can fully keep up with, there’s a question I find myself being asked again and again: “Are sitcoms going away?”
As much as the question pains me, I understand why people are asking it. After all, what comes to mind when you hear the word “sitcom?” I’m willing to bet it’s most likely classics like “Seinfeld” or “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” if not “Cheers” or even “The Brady Bunch.” In other words, older shows—relatable and endlessly rewatchable though they may be— that have long ended.
I’m guilty of it. My all-time favorite sitcoms (with one or two notable exceptions) ended years ago, because they have some of the best-written characters and episodes of any series. They also inspire nostalgia in a way I can never quite shake, nor would I want to. After all, this comforting, familiar sense of nostalgia is a key reason why sitcoms are not going away.
The Power of Classic Sitcoms in Syndication
More than just a sense of nostalgia, iconic sitcoms are timeless—with deeply accessible plotlines and relatable characters, regardless of whether or not you grew up with a particular show. Multiple generations understand the horror of a “close talker” (as popularized on “Seinfeld”), wonder if they’re more of a Monica or Rachel, and know someone with in-laws like the Barones.
Networks and streaming services alike understand that this timelessness equates to value. This is because they know sitcoms are a great way to tap into an established, loyal fanbase to draw in new viewers.
For networks, when they gain the rights to a classic sitcom, it’s not uncommon for them to launch promotional campaigns that are comparable in scale to how they would promote one of their own, original programs. After FXX outbid multiple networks and won the exclusive cable and non-linear rights to air “The Simpsons” reruns (marking the most expensive off-network deal in TV history), it heavily advertised the first of its now recurring “Every. Simpsons. Ever.” stunt.
It makes sense why. “The Simpsons” isn’t just any sitcom. Frequently named one of the best TV shows of all time (though it arguably deserves the top spot), the winner of more than 30 Emmy Awards and still going strong 30 seasons later, “The Simpsons” is the rare show with enough clout to warrant such an investment.
“Friends” is another (despite ending back in 2004), which is why Netflix recently paid a staggering $100 million just to keep it on its streaming service through the end of this year. “Friends” and fellow sitcom “The Office” rank as the most-watched shows on Netflix, which could spell trouble for the streaming giant as more companies—including Disney (which also officially acquired Fox) and WarnerMedia (which owns “Friends”)—are working on their own streaming services, and may understandably choose to keep their content in-house.
The Role of Sitcoms Today: Goldmines for Advertisers
It’s not only networks and streaming services that can win viewers’ engagement from sitcoms; advertisers can, too. In addition to many being family friendly and brand safe (a winning combination for many advertisers), sitcoms have been shown to provide TV advertisers with their best ROI results.
With this in mind, it’s excellent news for all parties then that sitcoms are still indeed going strong. CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” has been a critical and commercial success for 12 seasons—so much so that the network is able to charge brands between $1.2 million to $1.5 million to air a 30-second spot during the upcoming series finale (Thursday, May 16). In what was seen as a major victory for fans, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” was revived by NBC just one day after FOX cancelled it last spring. And, of course, there’s always “The Simpsons.”
So, rest assured, sitcoms (old and new) are expected to be a staple of TV entertainment for many years to come.