In Derek Kompare’s piece Domestic Syndication in the Post-Network Era, he discusses how syndicated television became the backbone of major broadcast networks after the multi-channel transition. One specific example he uses is the “action hour”, where networks tried to appeal to a core demographic in the 18-34 range of age. CBS in particular found success in reviving its Star Trek series by re-establishing its footing on television in the mid-80s with the advent of The Next Generation.
One key to this process was the institutional changes that had taken place at CBS since its heydays back during the network era. Kompare describes how CBS and other major networks had become part of larger conglomerations that had effectively run out all other competition by the 1980s. “Accordingly, the most fundamental change in the organization of television over the past two decades–the consolidation of studios, networks, cable systems, broadcast stations, syndication distributors, and other media entities into a handful of large corporations–has affected the relationship between theses sellers and buyers.” (Kompare 58) This would in turn inform the relationships between advertisers and the distributing networks. Syndication would take a turn for the worse by becoming of less importance on into the 21st century, but for the time being, it remained a key for networks.
Now that CBS had become one consolidated entity (see above), they could now utilize other branches that shared their corporate allegiance. One such ally was Paramount Pictures and its production facilities. These studios would provide CBS with the essential components to craft a first run syndicated program, whereby they would have a stable product to rake in viewers. But what would be a safe bet of a product that could produce huge ratings on a consistent basis? The answer lay in a franchise that had left the airwaves all the way back in 1969.
While the original Star Trek series that premiered back in 1966, backed by Desilu, never found mass appeal, it produced a loyal fan-base that was rabid for more episodes. It would not, however, return to the small screen until 1987, when the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation would premiere on September 26th. While fans seemed initially reluctant to accept the new crew of the Enterprise NCC-1701-D, they would grow to become highly popular, and highly profitable, over time. As Kompare notes, “By the mid-1990s, this ‘experiment’ greatly expanded the Star Trek franchise through two additional television series, an extended feature film series, and myriad merchandise.” (Kompare 60) CBS had found syndication gold in TNG by bottling a beloved science fiction franchise up into digestible chunks of hour long programming. By utilizing every component of their greater whole, CBS was able to craft what would become a ratings juggernaut for seven seasons. Consequently, they provide a great example of first run syndicated television for Kompare to analyse and contrast to the blander syndicated brethren. If anything, Star Trek: The Next Generation represents a watershed moment within television as a medium that showed just what corporate conglomerations were capable of. As a matter of fact, you can probably still catch episodes of TNG on Spike TV, SyFy, or stream them via Netflix. This proves just how much syndicated television pays off in the long term.